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Tavener: Requiem / Petrenko, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic


Release Date: 06/02/2009 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 35134   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  John Tavener
Performer:  Andrew KennedyElin Manahan ThomasRuth PalmerJosephine Knight
Conductor:  Vasily Petrenko
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic ChoirRoyal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

John Tavener converted to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1977 convinced that it retained a “primordial essence” that the tired Western devotional traditions had lost. Increasingly oriental influences which we associate with timelessness have become part of the fabric of his music.

Just before I played this disc I had been reviewing another very recent Tavener release of two works from the turbulently active and more avant-garde 1970s. They are Canciones Españolas (1972) and Requiem for Father Malachy (1973) on Lyrita SRCD.311. Their complexity and sometimes spiky fracture is in contrast with these works from the last 18 years. Even so Tavener evidently espoused melody even then although it was through the prism of the
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There are a number of Tavener requiems – four in all. The others are Celtic Requiem (1969), Father Malachy Requiem (1973), Akhmatova Requiem (1980) and the just issued 2008 Requiem.

Commissioned by Liverpool Culture Company as part of the 2008 European Capital of Culture programme the Requiem is to be performed in a cruciform hall. The cello needs to be placed in the centre with choir and brass in the East, strings, solo soprano and tenor in the West and percussion in the North and South. The audience should sit amid these forces.

Josephine Knight’s trembling unadorned high-lying cello introduces us to and also bids farewell to the 2008 Requiem. Knight’s line is touched in with the tinkle of spare and gentle bells. At the start this is soon joined by the pure-voiced Elin Manahan Thomas and the choir. The choir and brass toll out a bell figure and are joined by the impassioned tenor – here the mercilessly tested Andrew Kennedy. The stratospheric Advaita Vedanta (trs. 3 and 5) raptly explores dizzy Allegri-like heights via the choir and the rapt Thomas and Kennedy. This is followed by the groaning and furious abrasion of the Dies Irae of Kali’s Dance. Between short paragraphs of this dancing fury the tenor and the serpentine cello and strings muse more quietly on destruction. Towards the end of the prayer-like Interlude (tr. 6) for orchestra and solo cello there is a moment of bell-dominated animation that suggests inspiration from Messiaen and Tippett. The final Ananda (tr. 7) is lovely moment, hypnotic, ecstatic, unbombastic and spiritual. It makes joyously irresistible use of the high registers of the soprano, choir and cello in a fine gradient pulsing crescendo and a moving decrescendo.

The least oriental work here is Eternal Memory for cello and strings. It’s the oldest piece here and the shortest. It is not at all holy minimalist but in its ten minutes arches from and to an inward and reverential melody recalling the chant at the start of Tchaikovsky’s 1812. In between the work rises to an episode of Shostakovich-like brutality which seems almost shameful by the side of its buttressing introspection.

More finely and vulnerably spun in gleaming misty silver is the Mah?shakti for solo violin, tam-tam and strings. This slow-blooming music is a heartbeat away from the religious mysteries of Alan Hovhaness; the tam-tam’s barely perceptible impacts underlines the reference. It also has a harmonic softness that reminds me of the Vaughan Williams Tallis and Lark and the tender Wenceslas Chorale of Josef Suk. Ruth Palmer sustains the rapt atmosphere – the unhurried arabesque; the modest yet confident invocation.

The composer’s notes are supportive but short on factual material.

Tavener here speaks through his music as sincere spiritual melodist not minimalist.

-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1. Requiem by John Tavener
Performer:  Andrew Kennedy (Tenor), Elin Manahan Thomas (Soprano)
Conductor:  Vasily Petrenko
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir,  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
2. Mah Shakti by John Tavener
Performer:  Ruth Palmer (Violin)
Conductor:  Vasily Petrenko
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir,  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
3. Eternal Memory by John Tavener
Performer:  Josephine Knight (Cello)
Conductor:  Vasily Petrenko
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir,  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1991; England 

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