Tavener: Total Eclipse; Agraphon

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Total Eclipse; Agraphon
PERFORMER: Patricia Rozario (soprano), Christopher Robson (countertenor), James Gilchrist (tenor), John Harle (saxophone); Choir of New College, Oxford, Academy of Ancient Music/Paul Goodwin
The enthusiasm with which contemporary composers have taken up the challenge of writing for early instruments has not always been evident in the result. In the case of John Tavener’s Total Eclipse and Agraphon, however, written for the Academy of Ancient Music and coupled on this disc of striking and often beautiful music, the confrontation of new ideas – or perhaps new-and-old ideas – with pre-Classical ways of playing forms a fascinating conjunction.


In Total Eclipse, set in potent relation to John Harle’s fierce saxophone (he represents Saul: the ‘eclipse’ is his blindness; the ‘metanoia’, as chanted by the choir, his conversion) these seasoned performers evoke new aspects of Tavener’s music, taking further the discoveries of Eternity’s Sunrise, his earlier collaboration with the ensemble, to recreate one of the composer’s most terse and original scores of recent years.


A notable pattern of drooping dominant sevenths connects with a similar passage in the earlier Agraphon of 1995, their barber-shop banality symbolising decay. But traditional word-painting itself never counted much with Tavener, and his preferred interpreter soprano Patricia Rozaria enfolds the words in veils of melisma, while in both works Baroque timpani share a role of surprising violence. Nicholas Williams