Tavener: Choral Music (CD Review - The Guardian, 2004)

Stephen Layton's superb choir, Polyphony, does wonders in bringing variety to a sequence of John Tavener's recent works for small chorus that might easily have seemed too slow and meditative.

Layton magnetically sustains Tavener's repetitious writing, even in the longest and least varied piece, Shunya, with that Sanskrit word for "void" endlessly repeated over Tibetan gong-beats.

Most impressive of the longer works is Schuon Hymnen, setting German words by the Sufi sheikh Frithjof Schuon, with verses and refrains bringing sharp contrasts between powerful unisons and distant choral comment, punctuated by mantra-like phrases for solo tenor.

Birthday Sleep, setting a Vernon Watkins poem, brings attractively scrunching harmonies, and Butterfly Dreams delightfully captures the insect's fluttering.

Edward Greenfield 

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