Ikon of Light
Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete
Members of the Chilingirian String Quartet
The Tallis Scholars
Sir John Tavener [The Lamb]
Recorded 1982 [Great Canon] at Charterhouse Chapel, Godalming, England; 1984 [Ikon of Light, Funeral Ikos & The Lamb] at Merton College Chapel, Oxford, England
Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers
Reviewed: April 2014
CD No: GIMELL GIMSE 404
Duration: 78 minutes
Just months after Sir John Tavener’s death, Gimell has reissued this collection of his choral works originally recorded by The Tallis Scholars in the 1980s, the Great Canon first appearing in a separate recording from the other pieces. All four compositions stem from the period of his adherence to the Orthodox Church and, except for The Lamb, were premiered by The Tallis Scholars not long before their recordings here.
In the 42-minute span of Ikon of Light, The Tallis Scholars and three members of the Chilingirian Quartet show due patience with the work’s slow progression, particularly in the repetitions of “Phos” and “Doxa” (Light and Glory) in the sections framing the work. Nor do the silences between the paragraphs of music prove an obstacle to the choir’s ability to sustain a contemplative atmosphere. In the first and third parts of the long middle section (setting a prayer in praise of God’s light) there is a radiance of sound as though the singers are bathing in that lustre, whilst they contrive a darker tone for the contrasting middle part in the minor mode. The string passages emphasise the rising interval of a major 6th between C and A which directly evokes, whether deliberately or not, the ‘Heiliger Dankgesang’ from Beethoven’s String Quartet Opus 132 – music which similarly seems to strive upwards to the Divine.
The Funeral Ikos and the Great Canon of St Andrew are similarly unhurried, the words subtly and thoughtfully inflected to capture a liturgical dimension and allowing the listener to ponder the theologically rich texts. Jeremy White’s solo incantations of the verses in the Great Canon are sonorous and carry arrestingly through the slightly recessed sound, the rest of the Scholars sounding as though they are in a distant chamber in the reverberant Chapel of Charterhouse. Nevertheless, the magical harmonies of their refrain are joyful, even as this descends by a semitone each time as a “musical prostration”. A touch more rapture would not have been amiss in Funeral Ikos, but it does at least avoid the sanctimony which this music can all too easily take on.
The ubiquitous The Lamb is also included, conducted by the composer. Sopranos on the top line ensure a mature musical approach and a homogeneous texture, but those who are more used to hearing the piece with boy or girl trebles will likely miss the note of innocence that very properly complements the theme of William Blake’s poem.