Matthew Barley

Sir John Tavener: The Protecting Veil

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Sir John Tavener's The Protecting Veil announced a new voice in holy minimalism in the late 1980s, and the work remains one of Tavener's most popular. All-instrumental, with a prominent cello part, the work is a favorite of English chamber orchestras. Cellist Matthew Barley, leading the Sinfonietta Riga, manages to stand out from the collection of recordings on the market, however. It's not just that Barley leads the orchestra from his own cello, difficult though this may be. The entire program unfolds as a single utterance that approaches Tavener's undoubtedly spiritual core. The Protecting Veil is framed by short readings, including one by no less than Julie Christie, and followed by other Tavener works, including a conclusion that makes explicit the lurking Indian influence in The Protecting Veil. But Barley's reading of that work is the main attraction. Tavener here devised entirely original ways of representing the Passion story. There is no text, but sample "The Lament of the Mother of God at the Cross" as it rises from the quiet utterances of the cello to a peak of emotion at the end. It's not quite like other holy minimalist music, or even quite like anything else Tavener has written, and Barley catches the intimacy and emotion of the music. Add in fine engineering work from Signum at what must have been an unfamiliar venue, the Anglican Church in Riga, and you have a superior Tavener release.

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