Tavener The Protecting Veil; Thrinos. Britten Cello Suite No 3

Author: 
Arnold Whittall

Tavener The Protecting Veil; Thrinos. Britten Cello Suite No 3

  • (The) Protecting Veil
  • Thrinos
  • Suite No. 3

First impressions of The Protecting Veil are of a consonant, major-key sweetness that could portend a pastoral after the style of Samuel Barber. Yet it soon becomes evident that this is not neo-Romantic music. Nor, despite the often static harmony, is it in the vein of English minimalism. The religious aura of this Hymn to the Mother of God explains its style - moving between simple contemplativeness and heartfelt lament - but not the enthusiasm with which audiences have greeted it. I suspect that its most telling effect - the return of the opening idea with heightened eloquence at the end, which then dissolves into potent images of grief - is one major reason for its impact. 

Many listeners will also welcome Tavener's total rejection of contemporary complexity, though to my ears there is a price to pay for this in occasional passages where the musical thought grows dangerously desultory. I believe that Tavener's later, shorter, by no means dissimilar instrumental work The Repentant Thief (recorded for the Collins Classics 20th Century Plus series) is actually more successful, its inspiration more evenly sustained. But The Protecting Veil needed to be preserved on disc, and this performance, well recorded, is ideal in every way, with a soloist who shapes the long, simple lines effortlessly, and a conductor who is never tempted to push the music on beyond its natural pace. 

Steven Isserlis also plays Britten's Third Suite with free expression and superfine control. After the Tavener this is the music of a troubled, doubting mind, and a feeling of dramatic tension replaces his meditative ritual. There is nevertheless a touching sense of humanity in Tavener's short, unaccompanied Thrinos, a lament for a close friend, whose simple chant is clouded by the colours of a vivid sorrow. As with The Protecting Veil, the recordings of the Britten and of Thrinos are superbly natural and immediate.

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