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Ideal for neophytes, John Tavener: A Portrait
is a two-disc set presenting a chronological survey of the composer's major works produced to coincide with his 60th birthday (January 2004). Although it's a sampler collection consisting of short extracts, it all fits together well because the music is accompanied by a lengthy and informative booklet essay by David McCleery that puts all the extracts in the context of Tavener's Gnostic musical journey of self-discovery, from avant-garde pal of the Beatles to Russian Orthodoxy to all-embracing spirituality.
The representative selection is compiled from a variety of recordings and record labels (though there's nothing here from his most famous early work The Whale). The Protecting Veil (performed by Maria Kliegel) as well as his later "divine" musings are given due prominence, naturally enough. But even Tavener acolytes who already have the full-length versions of many of these pieces will still be tempted by the inclusion of the premiere recording of Prayer of the Heart, featuring Icelandic singer Björk and the Brodsky Quartet. The addition of a recorded interview with the composer himself ensures that anyone wishing to learn more about Tavener's often opaque and enigmatic music will do well to begin here. --Mark Walker