Chilingirian Quartet / Winchester Cathedral Choir / David Hill

Tavener: Thunder Entered Her; The Last Sleep of the Virgin; The Hidden Treasure

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This CD set, primarily devoted to the music of John Tavener, features choral music and works for string quartet. On the first CD, David Hill leads the Winchester Cathedral Choir, a choir of men and boys, in performances of remarkably focused intensity. Most of the works performed here move at a glacial pace, requiring exceptional discipline in maintaining a sustained tone quality that is pure and controlled, and the choir is fully successful in bringing it off. In The Lament of the Mother of God, for a cappella chorus and soprano soloist, the choir essentially provides a series of harmonically complex drones, some going on uninterrupted for minutes, over which the soloist floats a serene, chant-like melody, and the effect is mesmerizing. Hymns of Paradise, for boys' voices, bass soloist, organ, and six violins, has considerably more activity and variety both texturally and rhythmically, but its mood is still one of rapt wonder and timelessness. Thunder Entered Her, accompanied by organ and handbells, uses similar compositional means to create a work of spacious awe and mystery. David Dunnett leads the choir in a committed and dramatic performance of God is With Us (A Christmas Proclamation). It actually does have more the character of a proclamation than an anthem, with tenor William Kendall delivering a stentorian announcement of the birth of Christ. The sound is immaculate, and absolutely clear and clean, but with a good amount of resonance, creating a sense of a vast performing space, which is ideal for this repertoire.

The second disc includes four works for string quartet, two by Tavener and two by the composer whose aesthetic is most closely associated with his, Estonian Arvo Pärt. Tavener and Pärt, along with composers like Henryk Górecki and Giya Kancheli, have been described as Holy Minimalists because of the simplicity, austerity, and contemplative nature of much of their work. Tavener's The Last Sleep of the Virgin, for string quartet and handbells, which is typical of the style, inhabits a cool, reflective, and sonically spacious world. In an homage to Pärt, Tavener tucks the theme of his colleague's Fratres into the music's transparent textures. Pärt's Fratres and Summa both exist in a number of incarnations, of varying degrees of effectiveness, but the sting quartet versions heard here are among the most successful. They are some of Pärt's most characteristic instrumental works -- transfixing in their meditative, insistent stasis with an ethereality that gives them a timeless quality. The title of Tavener's The Hidden Treasure refers to paradise, and the music for the most part has a shimmering, unearthly tranquility, occasionally punctuated by eruptions of anguished anxiety. The Chilingirian Quartet gives all the pieces atmospheric and luminous performances that sound both chaste and sensuous. The sound is clean and atmospheric.

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