[ Hyperion / CD ]
Release Date: Wednesday 10 April 2019
Sir John Tavener loved Winchester Cathedral. I think it fair to say that it became one of his spiritual homes, and, as this album triumphantly shows, the cathedral and its choir under Andrew Lumsden are clearly ideal for his music.
From 1972 until his death in 2013 John was a frequent visitor to Winchester, often at premieres of pieces composed for the Cathedral Choir. One of the most arresting was God is with us at the Carol Services in 1987 when the fine tenor soloist, as on this recording, was William Kendall. The text is adapted from the Orthodox Great Compline for Christmas Eve. Before the first performance, John (as always) made very clear the kind of 'Orthodox' declamation he required from the soloist, as well as insisting on the purity and the stillness of the choral blend, especially during the pianissimos.
As with many of Tavener's shorter choral works, God is with us has a disarming simplicity, but there is also very subtle harmony, as well as in this case a feeling of great anticipation-who else would have conceived (and brought off) the idea of the totally unexpected appearance of the full organ in as foreign a key as one could imagine? The thrilling sound of the Winchester organ also brings back memories for me of evenings in the seventies and eighties when the cathedral was closed and John would climb up to the organ loft and literally let loose on the full organ!
Two years earlier, in 1985, John had composed the unaccompanied Hymn to the Mother of God. What struck me at the time was the effect of the second choir singing in canon, three beats behind the first. The beautifully spaced (and repeated) opening chord-typical of John's acute ear for choral sound-is immediately arresting, and what on paper may look like the blurring effect of the second choir entries is in fact magical. Following the telling silence after the rich F major chord at the end of the first section, the modulation to A flat major, with the chord repeated four times, immediately captures the words 'O sanctified temple', once again enhanced by the canon.
Love bade me welcome also dates from 1985 and was first sung at the Enthronement of Colin James as Bishop of Winchester. Here is an early example of the composer super-imposing a melody close to Orthodox chant over a drone-like bass. But it is no ordinary melody-the last three notes move unexpectedly, and yet feel inexorably right. It is this kind of sequence which convinces me that here was a composer of genius-others may have attempted to follow in John's footsteps, but who else has found such inspiration?
God is with us 'A Christmas proclamation'
Hymn To The Mother Of God
Love Bade Me Welcome
They Are All Gone Into The World Of Light
As One Who Has Slept
Song For Athene
The Lord's Prayer
Five anthems from The Veil of the Temple