ALBUM TITLE: Tavener
WORKS: Lament for Jerusalem
PERFORMER: Angharad Gruffydd Jones (soprano), Peter Crawford (countertenor); Choir of London & Orchestra/Jeremy Summerly
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557826
The title may have all sorts of uncomfortable resonances today, but John Tavener’s Lament for Jerusalem is in fact a meditation on an age-old theme. Jerusalem the Holy City of three different faiths becomes the archetypal sacred place: a real location in which one may encounter the Divine. So why a lament? Because what Tavener calls ‘the endless and despairing ugliness’ of modern life – religious as well as secular – shows how estranged we have becomes from the truly sacred. So we hear Jewish, Christian and Muslim (Sufi) texts in which love and grief intermingle.
As in much of Tavener’s work, ritualistic repetition (often with a minimum of change) is central. But unlike other large-scale quasi-liturgical pieces such as Resurrection or The Veil of the Temple, there is no sense of a journey, however slow and measured. The basic elements – rich, chant-like choral writing, poignant hymn-like or Middle-Eastern-inflected solos – circle around each other until the process just stops. This will be a problem for some listeners. But if one accepts that this is a rite, not a dramatic, developing piece of Western symphonic music, the contained beauty can be quite mesmerizing. It’s hard to imagine it better performed, or recorded. The choral writing in particular is a lot more difficult to sing than it sounds – full marks there, and Peter Crawford is a wonderfully dignified countertenor. Recommended to the faithful; agnostics might do better to start with The Veil of the Temple. Stephen Johnson