TAVENER: Towards Silence – Medici Quartet/ Finzi Quartet/ Cavaleri Quartet/ Fifth Quadrant – Signum

by | Jan 5, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

TAVENER: Towards Silence – Medici Quartet/ Finzi Quartet/ Cavaleri Quartet/ Fifth Quadrant – Signum multichannel SACD 221, 33:45 [Distr. by Qualiton] ***:

John Tavener has long been a composer who finds inspiration in religious philosophy, from his native Anglicanism to Orthodox Christianity, the musings of Swiss metaphysician Fritjhof Schuon, Roman Catholicism, and now the Hindu texts of the Upanishad. He is obviously a man of spiritual striving and one that cannot seem to find comfort or security in any one system; hence the evolution of his current music to a sort of eclectic new age material that I find less and less convincing the more it is stringently associated with any of the basic tenets of any one religious ideology. To me it runs roughshod over his previous efforts which were also no doubt sincere, but now look more than a little fickle.

So in reviewing this disc I have decided not to try and conjure up associations with the specifics of his inspiration or intents (in this case, a meditation on the different states of dying, or the four states of Atma (soul, from the Bhagavad-Gita). Whether or not the music conveys any of the distinct elements of these stated aims is ultimately of no consequence to me (though I admit it might be to others) and what matters in the end—as always—is the music itself.

So what do we have here? Four string quartets in an antiphonal setting (thank you Signum for the surround sound) that correspond to the…well, I said I wasn’t going there, didn’t I? Let’s just say that the effect is nice, and that the music, in four continuous movements of varying complexity, and nicely under girded by an almost unending rhythmic pulse, has an attraction that almost defies explanation. It is as if a certain number of static elements were constantly being set in motion by the contrasting monotony of the rhythmic portion, but refused to entirely give in; there is no question of tonality or melody here, since all of Tavener’s music is tonal, and his melodies are deceptive in that you think they are going to take you somewhere different than where you actually end up. In this case the snippets sort of float, mesmerizing and beguiling, while leading you not from point “A” to point “B” but instead to a third dimension of depth instead of progression.

The large Tibetan temple bowl does not sound very large—more like someone hitting a piece of distant low glass crystal, but its omnipresent interjections do add a certain degree of unity to the four movements. If you like Tavener you will probably like this, and it is nice to hear such a different orchestral setup and what he does with it. But it’s not for everyone, and the first steps with this composer should still be The Lamb, Song for Athene, and The Protecting Veil before venturing anywhere else. This disc sells for about fourteen bucks on Amazon, and is only 33 minutes long, something that would definitely discourage me. But many will have to have it, and it does have its rewards.

— Steven Ritter    

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