The inventiveness and originality of these works by John Tavener, written in the early '70s within five years of his breakthrough piece, The Whale, make this a release that should be of interest not only to followers of the composer, but even to fans of new vocal and choral music who aren't particularly taken with the austere "holy minimalism" that has characterized the composer's signature mature style. Tavener wrote Requiem for Father Mulcahy in memory of a priest who was especially fond of the admonition, "Keep the medieval spirit of Art alive," and the composer takes that advice to heart in these two works. Set for six male singers and chamber orchestra, the Requiem makes extensive use of plainchant, and while the piece is eclectic enough to include serial techniques and a higher level of dissonance than is usual for the composer, it does convey a kind of archaic sensibility. Its movements are strikingly varied, and the delicacy of the vocal writing and the scoring gives hints of the aesthetic that the composer would later more fully develop. The ending thins to a transparent, celestial texture of bells, piano, and voices, and is exceptionally lovely. Canciones españolas, settings, or treatments of Spanish folk songs, are even more overtly medieval in their sound. Scored for two high voices, three flutes, harpsichord, chamber organ, and percussion, the orchestration establishes a thoroughly pre-modern atmosphere, on which Tavener capitalizes by using a variety of medieval compositional forms and procedures, including organum and isometric motet, as well as popular dance and song. The composer conducts the Nash Ensemble in performances that emphasize the wild rusticity of the Canciones and the sophistication of the Requiem. Counter tenors Kevin Smith and James Bowman sing with pure tone and appropriate abandon in the Canciones, and the King's Singers bring warmth and polish to the Requiem. The sound is clear and clean, with nicely differentiated ambience for the two pieces: bright and open for the Canciones and resonant for the Requiem.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Canciones españolas, for 2 counter-tenors, 3 flutes, percussion, organ & harpsichord|
|Requiem for Father Malachy, for voices, chorus & organ|