Wells Cathedral Choir / Matthew Owens

John Tavener: Missa Wellensis

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The works on this album are united in being from the last few years of John Tavener's life, after he suffered a serious cardiac episode in 2007 and fell into a period of depression and compositional inactivity. When he reemerged, his music was newly focused on compact, fundamental religious texts; he reduced, but did not abandon, his interest in non-Christian faith traditions. All the works here are Christian in content, with most of the texts coming from the Western tradition rather than Tavener's Orthodox faith. The music does not have the deeply mystic tinge that has gained the attention of the public for Tavener's music, but for those who love Tavener or are interested in the phenomenon of late-life creativity this is a must. Several of the pieces here receive their recorded premieres. One interesting aspect is that the new simplicity to which Tavener was attracted in his texts is only intermittently apparent in the music: the tonality varies from hyper-diatonic to quite dissonant and appears to respond in deeply personal ways to the text. All the music is fairly brief, however; the Missa Wellensis that receives main billing in the graphics takes up only about a fifth of the program. Sample one of the more direct prayers, such as the two-part Preces and Responses, for a feeling for how Tavener infuses rather formal texts with personal feeling. The Wells Cathedral Choir is not the best known of the cathedral groups, but they have a slightly rough sound that's just right for Tavener. An important addition to the Tavener discography.

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