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Scottish Ensemble - Tavener: Tears of the Angels - Stereophile


01 March 1999
Stereophile

John Tavener is a fascinating composer. Beatles completists may know of him because Apple Records' only classical release was his composition The Whale, while others may know of him from the superb recording of his work released by the Tallis Scholars, or through The Protecting Veil, his piece for solo cello and string orchestra.

...Depart in Peace, written in memory of Tavener's late father, uses solo voice, violin, and string ensemble to first disassemble and later reconstruct the prayer/song Nunc Dimittis. At first the string ensemble slowly, syllable by syllable, gives voice to Alleluias; these are then sung with extreme tenderness by soprano Patricia Rozario accompanied by solo violin, tampura, and cello; at last, the full prayer is sounded by the ensemble: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace." A profound sense of peace permeates the sadness of the work. 

It takes a rare talent to combine prepeared tape and solo instrument in a living, breathing way, but that's precisely what Tavener has done in My Gaze Is Ever Upon You. Here Clio Gould, director of the Scottish Ensemble, accompanies a tape of violin and string bass drone recorded in a resonant acoustic. These fragments represent "a series of sixteen gazes, moments, ecstatic breaths," according to the composer, and he has even provided commentaries to accompany several of them. They aren't needed, however. In fact, I don't even want to read them - i find the piece strangely moving on its own terms. It has a purity and a strangeness that don't require explanation. 

Tears of the Angels was inspired by the bloody suffering of the Balkan people, and was commissioned by the Scottish Ensemble, which gave it its premiere performance. It is a somber work, as you might imagine, but suffused with a sense of gentle grief. Even though the piece is unmistakably modern, it also looks backward to earlier forms. It feels timeless.

It all sounds so serious, but the beauty of this music is intoxicating, and matched by the crystalline, never soulless, beauty of its recording. Everything sounds distinct, but exceedingly natural. It's sounds you could swim in. Seek this one out. 


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