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COMPOSERS: Tavener/Part
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: The Last Sleep of the Virgin; The Hidden Treasure; Summa; Fratres
PERFORMER: Chilingirian Quartet
Physical space and the effects of separation are important elements in the music of John Tavener, and an exciting challenge to the virtuosity of modern recording techniques. But how have the engineers coped with The Last Sleep of the Virgin, where the chief effect is of distance?


Successfully, on the evidence of the Virgin release, which couples Tavener’s works for string quartet with popular items by that other exponent of Faith Minimalism, Arvo Pärt. Over 20 minutes long and composed in homage to Margot Fonteyn, The Last Sleep, a meditation on last things, is central to Tavener’s output. It is a musical essay that exists, literally, on the threshold of audibility. Conceived just before Tavener underwent major heart surgery, the music seemed to come to him from afar; hence, perhaps, the beautiful aura of handbells throughout the piece, and the sustained remoteness so admirably captured on this recording.


The Hidden Treasure, by comparison, is less austerely Byzantine; the idiom will be familiar to lovers of Tavener’s choral works such as ‘The Lamb’. Pärt’s Fratres has also appeared in versions for violin and piano, and for 12 cellos, but the Chilingirians perfectly capture its spirit in close, warmly resonant quartet playing. Summa, short and intense, makes an ideal counterpart. Nicholas Williams