James Whitbourn / The Choir

John Tavener: Choral Ikons

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Chorals Ikons was originally released by Opus Arte as a DVD that included an hour of performances of John Tavener's choral pieces accompanied by visual images of the Hagia Sophia, interspersed with commentary by the composer and Dutch art historian Robert Roozemond, who discusses icons and iconography. The CD release is made up of all the music for the CD, 11 of the composer's most popular a cappella anthems, written between 1982 and 2000. The music is almost entirely in the contemplative mood -- harmonically unhurried with the abundant use of drones, and with ethereal drifting melodies -- that characterized much of the composer's work from that period, so it should make a fine introduction to Tavener for listeners looking to explore his work, as well as for anyone looking for an album of meditative modern choral works. Some of Tavener's most celebrated pieces, like widely recorded The Lamb and Song for Athene, are included, as well as less familiar works, like Parting Gift for Tam Farrow, recorded here for the first time. James Whitbourn leads The Choir in intense, committed performances. The choral sound is not always clean, probably because of the acoustic of the recording space, which is troublesome on some but not all tracks. The male soloists are less than ideal, and their heavy vibrato detracts from the overall impact of the performances. The reverberant sound quality is more effective in some pieces than others. The CD has its strengths, but these performances would probably come off most effectively in the video context in which they were conceived.

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