Tavener: Shûnya; Schuon Hymnen; Butterfly Dreams; Birthday Sleep

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Shûnya; Schuon Hymnen; Butterfly Dreams; Birthday Sleep
PERFORMER: Polyphony/Stephen Layton
John Tavener, 60 this year, remains as productive as ever – as witness this collection of recent choral works. There are a few innovations, including a setting of German, Frithjof Schuon’s hymn to the Virgin as ‘primordial and universal woman’, and a cycle of miniatures setting various poems about butterflies. There’s even some nearly text-book harmony, in the first section of Exhortation and Kohima, an effective little anthem written for last year’s Festival of Remembrance. Mostly, though, it’s the mixture as before, with all its drones and refrain structures and chains of parallel chords. Sometimes simplicity doesn’t seem enough: Yeats’s poem ‘The Second Coming’ is surely too complex in its ideas and imagery to be set to choral chanting punctuated by organ explosions. Elsewhere, the law of diminishing returns sets in, as with the innumerable lifts to a shining major chord in Birthday Sleep, or the recurring solo refrain of Schuon Hymnen. And Shûnya, which spins out three words of Sanskrit towards eternity over a low drone and a booming Tibetan temple bowl, is definitely one for the faithful. But there’s no doubt about the quality of the performances. Tavener finds devoted interpreters in Polyphony who produce some of the most beautiful choral singing you could ever hope to hear. And all is captured in a glowing recording. Anthony Burton