TAVENER The Veil of the Temple
Signum has done us a great service in making available this recording of the reduced version of The Veil of the Temple, originally on RCA. Tavener, after all, regarded it as the summation of his life’s work. It is certainly the apex of the interest in ‘perennialism’, the belief that the same message underlies all the great religions of the earth, that preoccupied the composer during the last decade or so of his life, and thus brings together not only texts from Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism but also musical elements from various traditions.
Thus there are the familiar melodic lines reflecting the influence of Byzantine chant, together with the rhythms of Samavedic and Sufi chant; the sense of contemplative stasis and shining choral sound that was characteristic of Tavener’s music from his earliest compositions; and, presiding over all this like an angel, the soaring voice of Patricia Rozario. The music’s sense of static adoration coexists, paradoxically, with a sense of movement, achieved partly through the rigour and epic grandeur of the musical structure as a whole, and partly through the sheer busyness of some of the musical textures – ‘Mary Theotokos’ from Cycle VII is a good example, with its eternally revolving canons, creating a surface positively teeming with activity over a background of extreme harmonic stasis, as is the stunning ‘Alleluia’ that follows it, a sort of aural equivalent of a star-filled skyscape. Performance and recording are outstanding. An essential testimony to the vitality of the musical and spiritual vision of the final creative phase of one of Britain’s greatest composers.