Tavener: The John Tavener Collection

Tavener: The John Tavener Collection

Decca Classics  470 636-2

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal

Tavener: The John Tavener Collection

English Chamber Orchestra
Temple Church Choir
Holst Singers
Natalie Clein
Stephen Layton

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DSD recording

Recorded at Temple Church, London, 12, 13 & 18–20 July, 2003
1. God is With Us (A Christmas Proclamation)
2. Song for Athene (Alleluia. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest)
3. Funeral Ikos
4. A Hymn to the Mother of God
5. William Blake/The Tyger
6. Threnos
7. William Blake/The Lamb
8. Mother Thekla Today the Virgin
9. A Christmas Round
10. “What God is we do not know” from The Veil of the Temple (World Premiere recording)
11. Elizabeth Full of Grace (World Premiere recording)
12. “The Dormition of the Mother of God” from The Protecting Veil
13. The Protecting Veil

Total time: 64:58
Reviews (1)

Review by John Miller - April 4, 2018

Sir John Tavener (1944-2013) was an English composer whose music was often played in Classical Music radio programmes. This suggests that his works were of the “Light Music” type, and he is sometimes called a “cult composer”. John Tavener was born in London, and attended the well-known Highgate School, where he learned to be a pianist and organist. In1962 he began to further developing his musical education at the Royal Academy of Music, also in London, where composer was a main study, and he was awarded several medals there.

Tavener’s first taste of success, in 1968, was ‘The Whale’ Cantata, based on the biblical story of Jonah and premièred at the London Sinfonietta’s début, all at the first concert of the newly constructed Queen Elizabeth Hall. Interestingly, the Beatles (via Ringo Starr and his own brother Roger) were interested in Tavener’s music; the early works being published on the Beatle’s disc, Apple.

During the 1970s, there were a number of changes in his composing and its material, partly following his brief marriage in 1974. Victoria Maragopoulou was a Greek dancer, and this opened his mind wider to intellectualisation of Western classical music. He begins to rely on plainchant, basal drone-effects in most of his works and choral music reminiscent of Russian ecclesiastical singing, which is also quite distinctive of Tavener’s work. Shakespeare literature was also resurrected from his school.

A list of works for the 1980s illustrates this:
Funeral Ikos 1981
The Lamb 1982
The Tyger 1982
God is with us 1987

While the bulk of the music is usually based generally on the style of Late Romantic, there are patches of internal dissonance, usually within the choir-pieces, but this is a gentle version of “modern” music. Apart from the organ appearing once or twice in a few pieces, a Tibetan bowl accompaniment (‘Elizabeth, Full of Grace’), Sanskrit text, Indian harmonium and a solo cello are adjuncts to the English Chamber Orchestra strings in some pieces.

For the Tavener Collection from Decca in 2003, each item was recorded under the same conductor (Steven Layton) in London’s Choir of the Temple Church, a fine site for singing. It was built by the Knights Templar; a Round Church (was consecrated in 1185) and the Temple Church (1308), the latter with two pairs of organs, and in the vestry twenty eight choir ‘copes’ and four little ‘copes’ for the choristers. These are professional choirs, The Temple Singers and The Temple Players. The Holst Singers are essentially a concert choir, with Stephen Layton its musical director. The quality of both choirs (they join together in several Tavener pieces) is high and atmospheric having crystal-clear textures in singing the very slow melodies underlined by holding a very deep droning note or chord, a feature of many of Tavener’s scores. Natalie Clein is the soloist cello, and she plays a solemn, slow chant-based ‘Threnos’ (5.58), with her tones and those of the church ambience merging attractively. She also plays in several choral works together with the English Chamber Orchestra, (which itself mainly plays mostly as accompanist on items 5, 6,13).

This multi-channel DSD recording (5.1, 64.58) is very good in all; the placing of the various choirs in the Temple in 5.1 is quite realistic, once you have made a rather louder sound increase; but I found some extraneous moments where something (or some body) sudden goes very loud, and at the same time comes notably nearer to the microphones, which alters the timbre of the sound-maker. For example, in the first track, the collection, ‘Song for Athene’ has a sudden large crescendo seconds near the end, and the organ enters with a throbbing pedal which seems surprisingly near and has a rather intrusive tone.

As for presentation, the spectral art cover is good to attract buyers, but what is usually called the book is actually10 pages of dark blue/violet on a single folder, not obviously folded. Most of the pages have a half-wide strip ‘floating’ on the pages, sited about ¼ from the top. Texts begin in such a strip (with a very wide waste of paper) with the introduction of Tavener – in French! Followed by German and finally, on the reverse side,Tavener’s story in English appears. If you shuffle among the folder pages, you can follow the music list but in very small font in a thick white lettering for a list of the pieces on the disc, with a list of their titles followed by a very thin, even smaller, italic font for the musicians playing which is coloured in dark blue so it is hardly readable. If you start to read the folder while listening to the music, you will become irritated.

This SACD, still being issued after appearing in 2003, is probably the best of the John Tavener collections, and is organised differently in the CD version, with a more logistic sequencing. If you love the English Queen, Holy Mary, Veils of various kinds and plain chant, you should buy one of these strip-carriers. If you love superb choral performances, buy one too.

Copyright © 2018 John Miller and


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