The cover art is a bit jarring, the graphic equivalent of one of those country duets where the voice of a living singer is grafted onto that of a deceased one. But the title work, with Sir John Tavener's final letter to his children read by Simon Russell Beale and then treated musically by Roxanna Panufnik, is undeniably inspiring (you can and should sample it). Of interest beyond this work, though, is the program as a whole, consisting of works by Tavener (many unfamiliar, although the choral Svyati and the cello Threnos have been played fairly often) and Panufnik, plus an improvisation on Tavener by Matthew Barley. Panufnik is plenty popular on her own, and her admiration for Tavener is obviously genuine. The most interesting thing about the album is not the commonalities between Tavener and Panufnik, although they manifestly exist, and 99 Words ably makes the case for her as a kind of successor. It is how different the effect is between the music of the two. If you analyzed the harmonies of Tavener and Panufnik, you would find a lot of the same ones, but Tavener's music is mystical where Panufnik's is more personal and more grand. This is important: It means that a tradition is developing and being continued. Suzi Digby's Voce choral ensemble is ideal for this music, clean yet direct and strongly communicative. Highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim