In November 2013, Sir John Tavener, one of Britain's most celebrated composers, passed away at the age of 69. He is perhaps best known for his work The Protecting Veil, which was played at the funeral of Princess Diana. Originally released in 1999, this acclaimed recording features a wide-ranging selection of Tavener's music. The title work, Eternity's Sunrise, was commissioned by The Academy of Ancient Music to mark their 25th anniversary and was the composer's first work for period instruments. Performed by The Academy of Ancient Music conducted by Paul Goodwin, the album also includes four other major works: Sappho: Lyrical Fragments, Funeral Canticle, Petra: a ritual dream and Song of the Angel. Composed for Yehudi Menuhin in 1995, Song of the Angel features solos by soprano Patricia Rozario and violinist Andrew Manze.
Listening to Tavener's music requires not so much an open mind as one that has been emptied. Onto this blank slate, or tabula rasa, Tavener projects two sorts of basic materials: ecstatic melismas or slow-moving, simple chants. At first, the effects can be pleasant, as the popularity of discs such as The Protecting Veil
no doubt attests; the sounds are usually sweet and often soothing. Soon, the lack of movement becomes evident, at which point listeners can either fall into appreciatively soporific contemplation or regard themselves as victims of a musical form of the ancient Chinese water torture. The use of period instruments and performers (most notably Patricia Rozario and Andrew Manze) changes nothing about the description offered above. Expert singers wail, a few delicate plucks of the harp are transferred to the theorbo, and such fanciful titles as "Petra: A Ritual Dream" suggest far more than they deliver. Listeners seeking mystically oriented music that goes beyond New Age pabulum might prefer to try Messiaen's Éclairs sur l'Au-Delà
or Trois petites liturgies de la Presence Divine
. --Paul Turok