John Tavener has described his works as being like "Ikons in sound" and so it's a neat idea to bring visuals and music together in Choral Ikons
. The driving creative force behind his music is his Orthodox Christian faith, and he talks eloquently about it and his belief in universality in the documentary "Manifestations of God". He also discusses the "muses beyond the grave" who gave their names to his Song for Athene
and A Parting Gift for Tam Farrow
, and offers some fascinating comments on William Blake (two of whose poems are set here). It's an illuminating glimpse into the mind of this erudite, yet musically approachable figure.
The musical performances themselves, by James Whitbourne's small (14-voice) choir, are extremely compelling. They were recorded in the epic, arching spaces of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (in its time a church, then mosque and now museum). Highlights include the sustained and enthralling The Hymn of the Unwaning Light and the simple but memorable The Lord's Prayer. Unfortunately, visually the presentation is a mess, with an overload of technological trickery. This ranges from the irritating ruse of fading in and out single singers against a backdrop of frescoes and Blake paintings to the virtual reconstruction of how the Hagia Sophia might have looked in the sixth century, complete with Byzantine lighting. The result looks cheap, reminiscent of the crude graphics of early computer games. But if you can get over that obstacle you're in for an aural treat.
On the DVD: Choral Ikons on disc includes Tavener's own commentary, plus a 12-minute introduction to Ikon painting (in Dutch with subtitles) by Robert J Roozemond, director of the Ikon Museum in The Hague. It's fascinating and strangely moving, which pretty much sums up the appeal of this issue. The disc is region-free and comes with Dolby surround or LPCM stereo options and impressively sharp 16:9 anamorphic picture. There are optional subtitles in English, French, German and Spanish. A user-friendly booklet includes comments from Tavener, the virtual reality designers and background information. --Harriet Smith
John Tavener - Choral Ikons