TAVENER The Protecting Veil
This disc begins with a beautiful reading by Olwyn Fouéré of Yeats’s heartbreaking ‘The Cloths of Heaven’, a poem Tavener set as part of his remarkable and rarely performed song-cycle To a Child Dancing in the Wind (1983), and then suddenly we are in the breathtaking rhapsody that is The Protecting Veil. Matthew Barley has gone to considerable trouble to construct this programme, centred on his own magnificent performance of a work whose premiere at the 1989 Proms brought Tavener back to worldwide fame, and it is an approach that brings ample rewards.
Remarkably, Barley directs the Sinfonietta Riga himself, from the cello, and the sense of complicity is very much a hallmark of this performance. When I first saw the score of this work, when the composer showed it to me in 1988, worrying that it was ‘too romantic’, I could never have imagined that it would be possible to arrive at a performance of comparable intimacy, so grand did its gestures seem. But Barley has absolutely understood that intimacy is what underlies this piece: it is certainly on a large scale but it is also a kind of personal dialogue between the composer and the life of the Mother of God. Barley’s cello sings and the orchestra functions perfectly as the ‘cosmic echo chamber’ the composer desired.
After another reading by Fouéré, of Yeats’s ‘The Mother of God’, an arrangement by Barley (including some improvised solo cello music) of Tavener’s Mother and Child is heard, which I have come to prefer to the original version for choir, organ and gong. A poem by Fritjof Schuon, whose work meant so much to Tavener later in his life, follows, read by Julie Christie, and the disc closes with Barley’s arrangement for cello and tabla of a work by Sultan Khan, an appropriate acknowledgement of Tavener’s lifelong interest in the music of India.
Even if you have other recordings of The Protecting Veil, I recommend this utterly beautiful and originally framed version unreservedly.