Tavener: The Veil of the Temple - BBC Proms (Concert Review - The Daily Telegraph, 2004)

Sunday and Monday night's Proms featured two composers who are leading lights of the vogue for meditative ''spiritual'' music with an Eastern flavour (funny how ''spiritual'' and ''Eastern'' always go together, like ham and eggs).

The first of them was John Tavener, who joined a packed Albert Hall audience for a shortened version of his vast, six-hour ritual The Veil of the Temple. Would it have the same overwhelming effect as it did in the incense-filled, candle-lit intimacies of Temple Church, I wondered?

In the event the piece appeared stronger than ever. It was a pleasure to re-encounter details I'd forgotten, like the marvellously simple trio for two bassi profundi and tenor, and the astonishing, but perfectly apt quotation from Wagner's Tristan towards the end.

I was amazed again at the sheer audacity of the conception, which takes a cycle of prayers and meditations and repeats it sevenfold, each time in a more ecstatically elaborate form. And at the boldness that can put a melismatic style vaguely reminiscent of Orthodox cantillation next to a radiant piece of Anglican church harmony.

At the end, the ritual Christian frame was shattered, and we all processed out to a hymn from the Hindu Upanishads. Yes, I know it sounds like a spiritual and musical brothel, and in a way it was. But the iron grip of the form, and the telling economy of the music - and its amazing beauty - made it a profound experience.

Telling economy is not a concept that features in the vocabulary of Tan Dun, the Chinese composer. When he has an idea, he throws everything at it, including the kitchen sink.

In fact it was three sinks he called for in his Water Concerto for water percussion and orchestra, played in last night's Prom; plus gongs, cups and plastic tubes. And of course lots of water, which got liberally splashed over Glennie and the other two solo percussionists (lucky them, I thought, as I sweltered in the Albert Hall heat).

There were lots of ''arresting gestures'' and every now and then an attractively guileless melody. It was fun to begin with but, as in Tan's violin concerto Out of Peking Opera, played earlier in the same Prom, the law of diminishing returns soon set in.

Ivan Hewett