TAVENER Ikon of Light
Sometime back in the mid-1980s I was sent a review copy of the original LP recording on which all these performances (with the exception of the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete) first appeared. What my critical response was – or even who published my review – has long since been forgotten, but the LP continues frequently to grace my turntable. Ikon of Light, with its huge central ‘Mystic Prayer to the Holy Spirit’ characterised by soprano solos soaring above the magically weightless choral texture countered by basses descending into unfathomable depths, is some of the most profoundly beautiful music I know. It was also my first exposure to The Lamb, lovingly directed here by the composer himself, while the translucent ‘Alleluias’ of the Funeral Ikos have lost none of their power to stir visions of glorious eternity even now, 30 years on.
Recordings of Tavener have come and gone in the intervening years but it is not just mawkish nostalgia that makes me welcome this recording’s latest manifestation on CD so enthusiastically, despite its somewhat hard-edged sound. Enjoying a close working relationship with Tavener at the time, The Tallis Scholars imbued these performances with a real sense of ownership and an innate feel for the graceful shaping of his chant-inspired lines. Even in their relative infancy, The Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips produced a remarkably distinctive sound, unerringly juxtaposing fervent melodies and impeccably enunciated texts (Jeremy White is faultless as he intones the words of St Andrew of Crete) with ecstatically shimmering choral textures in a way which, like the music, verges on the other-worldly. These are performances which will, inevitably, long outlive any critical response I might have to offer.