Tavener Iepo Oneipo
New recordings of Song for Athene and The Lamb would hardly seem to be very high priorities for anybody these days but when they are sung by an outstanding, rich-toned choir and interspersed with fascinating works such as Iero Oniro (1997) and the hitherto unrecorded Three Holy Sonnets of John Donne (1959/1962), the Tavener connoisseur will certainly sit up and take note.
Iero Oniro is an absorbing piece, recalling in many ways earlier music such as the Requiem for Father Malachy (in its instrumentation, with much use of flutes and gongs) and Últimos Ritos (in its dramatisation of the Eucharist: the piece ends with the words “Lavete, phagete” – take, eat). It is also extraordinarily well performed: the dusky, powerful voice of soloist Guðrún Jóhanna Ólafsdóttir has more than a passing resemblance to that of Tavener’s favoured Patricia Rozario but she makes the piece very much her own. As for the remarkable Sonnets (the only music for which no commentary at all appears, strangely), they are perfect for the resonant baritone of Hrólfur Saemundsson. The vocabulary is somewhere between late Stravinsky and Britten (or perhaps Lennox Berkeley, who had been Tavener’s teacher), but they are nevertheless remarkable individual works of a prescient spiritual strength and memorable beauty. I find that the much more recent Schuon Hymnen outstay their welcome, so it is good to be offered a thoughtfully understated rendition of the 1999 setting of The Lord’s Prayer to round off this impressive collection.