Tavener: Diódia; The World; Akhmatova Songs; Many Years

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Diódia; The World; Akhmatova Songs; Many Years
PERFORMER: Patricia Rozario (soprano); Vanbrugh Quartet
Divine calm or catatonia? Radiant simplicity or plain emptiness? It’s possible that John Tavener’s music will always polarise opinions – and for reasons which probably have more to do with the personality of the listener than with any great religious or ethical questions. For me, listening to this disc has involved an almost constant wavering between the two extremes. Intermittently in the Akhmatova Songs, and for virtually the whole of The World, the music generates an intense, mesmerising background stillness. Even the straightforwardly strophic form of The World, combined with Kathleen Raine’s elegantly ingenious verse, weaves a kind of ritual magic. But in the string quartet Diódia, the alternation of slow chant and low-voltage dance music stretches the patience – you have to be fully persuaded by the Tavener phenomenon to buy into this. I can’t imagine this music performed better, however. The purity and superbly controlled intensity of Patricia Rozario’s singing (even in the extreme heights and depths to which Tavener pushes her) are phenomenal, and the Vanbrugh Quartet’s rapt, mysterious pianissimo holds the attention even when what it’s playing is little more than a long-held drone. The recording balances clarity and atmosphere to near-perfection. Stephen Johnson