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Cappella Nova - Tavener Conducts Tavener - BBC Music Magazine

01 February 2016
BBC Music Magazine
Stephen Johnson
4 Stars

Apart from Arvo Pärt, no other modern composer has done more to rehabilitate the idea of eloquent simplicity than the late John Tavener. Here is another fine choir recording Tavener's The Lamb, and it still sounds as strangely touching as ever. Yet Tavener's music isn't always as 'simple' as some make out. The long sustained drone bass notes and bare, modally flavoured chant lines are recurrent features, but how quickly, say, A Buddhist Miniature or Two Hadiths veer off into intricate polyphony and strikingly tart harmonies. In Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing, simple chant rhythms and textures unfold alongside some of the weirdest, most dislocating harmonic twists in modern unaccompanied choral music.

 All this can be very challenging to sing, and Cappella Nova not only manage to get the notes, but surmount them with lyrical grace and very little hint of strain. Conductor Alan Tavener (a distant relation) shapes this music very effectively, and obviously has a way when it comes to instilling confidence in singers. The programme, too, is well planned. In the first Paradise Choir (from the monumental Resurrection) the chant-plus-deep-drone texture may be off-putting for Tavener agnostics. But stick with it, adjust to the music's metabolic rate, savour the clear but atmospheric recording, and when this music returns, transformed, to close the disc, it feels entirely right.

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