on 30 June 2005
In 2003, Stephen Layton and Polyphony released the brilliant 'Triodion', a CD of (mainly) never-before recorded pieces by Arvo Part. That album was a masterpiece.
Now they have repeated the favour for the composer most usually associated with Part (although they have little in common stylistically), Sir John Tavener, and the results are equally exceptional.
This CD contains almost exclusively world premieres, and it is utterly stunning. Indeed, there are moments on this CD where Sir John has outdone himself. I'm thinking mainly of the awesome 18 minute 'Shunya', which is less a piece of music than a temple ritual that he as received and transcribed. I cannot describe this piece any further, only to say that I am grateful that someone like Sir John has had the bravery to be simple, as this piece is.
The rest of the CD is equally striking: 'secular' pieces by Vernon Watkins, WB Yeats and a remarkable short requiem for those fallen in war make up the bulk of the rest of the CD.
But aside from theses pieces - and it is always a pleasure to hear Tavener tackle the supposedly 'secular' (ha! if anything is) - are two pieces that, like Shunya, betray his new direction into a more universalist phase, or, as they might say on Father Ted, 'an ecumenical matter'! These pieces are Butterfly Dreams and Schuon Hymnen.
The first of these takes as its starting point the famous story about Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly, and then, upon waking, not being sure that he was not now a butterfly dreaming he was a man. The suite is lovely, and includes a wonderful setting of a Native American poem. Schuon Hymnen sets a poem by the Sufi Frithjof Schuon, who was something of a teacher and inspiration for Tavener, and deals with the Song of Songs.
Although this disc is more challenging than 'Triodion' (and that's not to belittle Triodion, which I absolutely love), I can recommend it, especially if you want to hear some of the best pieces to come out of Tavener's new phase.
And buy it above all for Shunya. Take the phone off the hook, disconnect from the internet, don't answer the door, and submerge yourself in these 18 amazing minutes.
on 16 November 2009
This particular CD receives the top accolade from the Gramophone guide and after a single listening one can see why. Stephen Layton and Polyphony are simply wonderful. I was particularly taken by "Birthday Sleep", "Butterfly dreams" and "As one who sleeps" (a simple and beautiful celebration of the resurrection) but was less taken by the Schuon Hymen and Shunya which I felt in both cases went on too long - I know Shunya is kind of meant to be mantra like but nearly 18 minutes was too much. Anyway, this is a minor quibble - the music has all the mystical and ethereal qualities one expects from Tavener and then we have the gorgeous singing. An absolute music for Tavener fans.
on 17 May 2010
Magnificent choral singing from Polyphony under their conductor Stephen Layton, beautifully recorded by the Hyperion engineers! Heard on a modest set up the SACD sound is breathtaking! The last item on the disc is "Shunya", with the ringing of a temple bowl to set the mood and bind the sounds together is a fine finish to the disc. It leaves a lasting impression and a desire to play the whole disc again immediately!
What an amazing composer John Tavener is! I can think of few other composers working today who can write such mystical, beautiful, spellbinding and accessible music.
If you heard and enjoyed "The Protecting Veil" which Steven Isserlis plays so splendidly on a Virgin CD, the you should not miss this CD of Tavener's Choral Works, some lengthy, some very short, but all worth listening to.
on 17 May 2014
Having long loved the most accessible, and popular, works, I discovered Taverner's more profound insights when listening to this recording; and I am a huge fan of his music. Utterly beautiful, well-produced, and sufficient ... highest praise