"All the music was written in the last eight years, and mature Tavener means even more reliance on triadic harmony and a straightforward interplay of tonality and modality, with chordal resolutions that seem unexpected, if only because they happen at all in this day and age. Sometimes, the results seem a child’s dream of what music might have been like without rude interruptions. Butterfly Dreams is the best example here: “I do not know/whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly/or whether I am now a butterfly/dreaming I am a man.” The fourth-century Chinese poem is set to music more innocent than Rutland Boughton’s Fairy Song. Elsewhere, experience has the upper hand, in a stark setting of Yeats’s great The Second Coming, andRead more an extended engagement with Frithjof Schuon’s thought (set in German, in 2003), which explores the power and eroticism of the radiant Virgin, again with a dreamlike refrain, “Clothed with the sun alone.”
The remaining works luxuriate in their own unadorned beauty, even the Remembrance Day commission Exhortation and Kohima, which makes something apt and touching out of the hackneyed words of Laurence Binyon (“At the going down of the sun,” etc.). The skeptic will just fall asleep, missing the two brief, sleep-inspired pieces that make the disc indispensable. The 1999 Watkins setting Birthday Sleep goes right to the heart and reinvents the key of F along the way. As one who has slept, from 1996, refers to Jesus between crucifixion and resurrection. The short text goes by, then again, a little higher. Only four minutes, and it’s hardly Webern, but if you love life, love, or heaven help us, God, or if you have kids, or have a heart in your body at all, then the composer will remind you why some things (including music) matter a great deal, and other things not at all. For jogging our dreamy memory in this way the composer deserves his material successes, and the new Hyperion disc is the place to start an exploration of Tavener’s shorter vocal works."
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