Tavener: Akathist of Thanksgiving

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WORKS: Akathist of Thanksgiving
PERFORMER: James Bowman, Timothy Wilson (countertenor), Martin Baker (organ), Westminster Abbey Choir, BBC Singers, BBC SO/Martin Neary
Though first performed in Westminster Abbey in 1988, and repeated there earlier this year in great splendour to open the BBC’s Tavener Ikons festival, the Akathist of Thanksgiving is more likely to be heard on disc than in its proper setting of a great basilica. Set for large choir, a score of soloists, orchestra and organ, it lasts for 77 minutes. That’s shorter than his Easter oratorio Resurrection or the new Apocalypse, a BBC commission recently given its world premiere at this year’s Proms (14 August). Even so, the ambitious duration makes it a full evening’s music, living up to its subtitle of ‘Glory to God for Everything’.


To match this imposing scale, the piece divides into ten sections, each part consisting of a narrative Kontakin and Ikos (translated into English by Tavener’s collaborator Mother Thekla) and framed by the words ‘Glory to you, O God’ and the Amen, both sung in Slavonic. Though the model is liturgical, the actual text is 20th-century, by a prisoner-priest, Gregory Petrov, who perished in Siberia, yet left this poem about the survival of faith in adversity.


A Virgin Classics release comprising a well-chosen group of smaller choral items provides an ideal complement to the Akathist, with two more affirmations of faith in Thunder Entered Her for handbell, chorus and organ, and the ‘Christmas proclamation’ God is With Us. The Hymns of Paradise, premiere recordings along with Angels and The Annunciation, show the composer in relaxed, humorous mood. The words are by St Ephrem the Syrian, the greatest poet of the patristic age. Nicholas Williams