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beautiful but repetitive music
on 20 November 2004
On one level this is a great CD. Under the direction of Christopher Robinson the Choir of St John's College Cambridge have drunk deeply of the idiom of John Tavener's choral works, which combine Russian intensity with the classic British Choral tradition. They have transported themselves into his musical world and their performances are quite different than those on other CDs in this series of works by more conventionally British composers such as Stanford and Finzi: more urgent, more rapt, more other worldly.
On the other hand the limitations of John Tavener's style are revealed. He talks a good talk about the wrong turning western music took at the beginning of the modern era and about returning to an earlier universal musical purity. But what does he give us? By the time I am half way through this disc I feel that I am being sentenced to an hour of stair walking as I hear yet another ascent and descent of the same scales.
There is no doubt that taken one at a time these pieces are works of beauty. But taken together their repetitive nature is made obvious.
There are also problems with the sound levels on the first few tracks. On God With Us the intrusions by the organ towards the end are too loud, and in Song for Athene there is too great a dynamic range. These tracks require the listener to have one hand on the volume control. After that things improve.
There is one obvious piece of wrong information on the back cover of the CD. John Tavener is described as having a strong Greek Orthodox faith, when in fact he was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church for many years. The booklet notes are of a good standard and add to appreciation of the works