John Tavener – Canciones Espanolas, Requiem for Father Malachy

Kevin Smith
James Bowman
The King’s Singers
The Nash Ensemble conducted by John Tavener

Label: Lyrita
Copyright: 2009 Wyastone Estate Limited.
Catalogue number: SRCD.311
UPC/EAN: 5020926031129
Format: CD
Analogue / Digital recording: ADD
Number of discs: 1
Total playing time: 52.00
Price: £ 14.99 (+ postage & packing)

John Tavener can be heard here in two works from the turbulently active 1970s. The twelve Canciones Españolas are very short - the dozen being complete in less than 17 minutes. They set six Spanish folk songs concerned with love and death – rich pickings! These silvery flame-flickering slivers of sound are rife with vitality and with the redolence of Dufay and of the Trouvères. Some tracks might almost be pastiches but then we come to Dime a do tienes las mientes and to Pase el agua ma Julietta where a fractured shatter synthesises courtly dances. You hear this again in the stagger and grip of Interlude (VI) where held notes by the organ are hedged around with percussion impacts and a flitter of woodwind note-cells.

Music of Iberia had already been used by Tavener in his Ultimos Ritos dating from shortly before the Canciones. Intending a more direct use of the material he scored the Canciones for two high voices, two flutes (doubling piccolo), alto flute, amplified harpsichord, chamber organ, hand bells, side drum and four small gongs. This makes for fascinating and very attractive listening, not at all the holy minimalism for which he has later become known. This sequence has something in common with Berio's then contemporary sets of folksongs.

The Requiem for Father Malachy is a much more substantial work incorporating the most commonly encountered mass particles but adding a Hosanna. If Berio used the Swingles in his Sinfonia then Tavener was happy to use The King's Singers in this Requiem as well as a much-expanded Nash Ensemble. The Father Malachy Requiem is dedicated to the free-thinking Father Malachy Lynch (1899-1972) of the Carmelite Priory at Allington Castle in Kent. Tavener is more unforgivingly avant-garde in this work. Japanese temple music mixes with dark choral waves, organ flights and protesting brass. A touch of the medieval - and even of Orff - can be heard in Dies Irae but it is extruded through the withering avant-garde blitz of the 1970s. Seraphic voices of the middle ages can be heard in Offertorium.

The soundly researched and detailed notes are by Paul Conway - a meritorious regular for Lyrita and the rising Lewis Foreman of his time. The vocal and instrumental contribution seems perfect – certainly clear and confident. Simon Gibson has wrought the usual wonders with analogue originals dating back three and a half decades. They sound stunning. It is good through this vital and emotionally inventive music to be reminded of Tavener’s roots and thriving originality. The music still draws you in.

Rob Barnett