Church, Patricia Rozario, Soprano / The Holst Singers / The English
Chamber Orchestra Brass, Stephen Layton, Conductor – with various
other instrumentalists – RCA Red Seal 82876661542 – 2
Multichannel Hybrid SACDs, 148 min. ****:
Tavener’s The Veil of the Temple is massive in scale and influence; the
sheer number of singers (more than 200), in combination with
orchestrations encompassing elements of mid-eastern, eastern Indian,
Tibetan and traditional western liturgical musical traditions is
staggering. All this, in combination with texts from Islam,
Christianity and Hinduism makes for one mind-boggling aural experience.
The work is rooted in a commission from London’s Temple Church for an
all-night vigil to be performed June 27-28, 2003. That work lasted
eight (yes, eight!) hours; the current version was drawn as a
concert-length piece from that performance, and the SACD actually uses
excerpts from the original performance and an additional all-night
vigil in July of that same year. The Temple Church, built in the round
by the Knights Templar in the twelfth century, serves as an excellent
acoustic environment for Tavener’s massive work. The fact that the
church figures so prominently in Dan Brown’s sensationalist novel The
DaVinci Code only adds a sense of intrigue to the goings-on here.
The music, while essentially based extensively on a traditional mass,
is arranged in eight cycles. Cycle I is prefaced by the “Mystical Love
Song of the Sufis,” a quite lovely offering which is interspersed with
a healthy dose of playing on a duduk, a mid-eastern reed instrument
similar in character to the saxophone. This is followed by the
“Primordial Call,” a blast of gongs, Tibetan horns and tubular bells
which is really quite striking and will test the limits of your
system’s endurance. Although the music throughout involves an enormous
number of participants, it’s really relatively subdued in nature – just
avoid the temptation to crank the volume too loudly, or you’ll get
quite a start. From that point, a “Primordial Call” prefaces each of
the Cycles – be prepared to get shaken, and often.
Unfortunately, while so much of the music and vocalizations are
alternately charming, lovely and bracing, a lot of the goings on are
downright overly-repetitive. Sometimes, too much of a good thing is,
well, way too much of a good thing! While there was much that I really
loved here, after about an hour or so I really began to feel that I’d
heard it all before. Too bad they couldn’t have found a way to condense
it into something more like ninety minutes or so, which is really
pushing most attention span thresholds.
In terms of sound quality, this disc is truly a knockout – the 5.1
surround presentation accurately captures the musical forces inside the
Temple Church and offers a most compelling realization of the church’s
acoustic. Stephen Layton, among the very best of England’s stellar crop
of choral conductors, is to be applauded for his superb work here.
Aside from the work’s excessive length, I’d give this set five stars –
as is, it gets only four, but is still highly recommended.
— Tom Gibbs