Tavener Agraphon; Total Eclipse
John Tavener’s ability to arrest the listener’s ear is nowhere more apparent than in the extraordinary opening pages of Total Eclipse. The work, Tavener tells us, is an esoteric contemplation on the word metanoia – meaning ‘change of mind’ or ‘conversion’ – and Tavener uses the conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus in order to give the work structure and meaning. Ideally, Total Eclipse, premiered last year, needs to be experienced in situ: the spatial separation of instrumental groups and the space (environment) in which the work should be performed are essential components combined to create a truly transcendental, metaphysical experience on the audience. A high, sustained ison (drone) on strings, the rolling of multiple antiphonal timpani and the anarchic, terrifying ‘alarm’ calls of the solo soprano saxophone (a symbolic representation of St Paul) create a visceral effect on the listener, and the subsequent descending choral sequences on the word Stavromenos (Crucified) and Christ’s calling of Saul are equally striking.
The recording can only hint at the spatial effects that Tavener envisaged, but it has nevertheless been exceptionally well committed to disc. Paul Goodwin and his team have no problems coping with Tavener’s demands, and John Harle’s stunning account of the solo saxophone part, together with Christopher Robson’s and James Gilchrist’s vocal contributions, make this extraordinary work a must for all Tavener fans.
Agraphon, for soprano, timpani and strings (1995), is no less extraordinary in both its subject matter and musical language. Here Tavener chooses as his text a powerful set of verses by the Greek poet Angelos Sikelianos that were penned during the German occupation of Athens in 1941. The work places extraordinary intonational and stylistic demands upon the soprano: indeed Patricia Rozario, whose voice the work is specifically written for, spent several months in India studying and perfecting the techniques that Tavener calls for. The effort must have been worthwhile, for Rozario produces a compelling performance of exceptional intensity. A very fine and compelling disc indeed.'