Review: Britten Sinfonia - Tavener's Flood Of Beauty @ BarbicanÂ
Sir John Tavener may have passed away last year, but had he lived on he would have witnessed his 70th birthday celebrations. They are going splendidly; only it's just not the same without him...
His name I have known for years. But he is all I have listened to the last few months (I can recommend some more music in the near future). Like many, I have deeply fallen in love with his music. It's deeply religious in a time where faith is fleeting and a nasty cynicism lingers over everything. Tavener never minced his words and he always knew what he wanted to write, even as a child he had this special gift of composing. So what if he has been popular! So what if he is traditional!
Flood Of Beauty is Tavener's last big concert work. It was a deeply felt Indian experience with the inclusion of a sitar, tanpura and tabla. Entirely sung in Sanskrit, the text is from the Saundarya LaharÃ¯. This vividly paints the story of the Hindu gods, with psychedelic and surreal descriptions of their bodies and own being. Tavener may have been an Orthodox Christian, but his inclusion of other faiths and cultures in his work (starting in the mid-90s) is what created perhaps his best period in music.
Sadly, this was too long, even if the repeated rhythms and chants were calming and a bit entrancing. It could have been half the size and still made a certain impact. This giant meditation is understandable when put in the context of its origins. It mingles Western music with Sub Continental seamlessly.
Seeing the musicians arrive on stage, I knew this was a special event. The sitar (played by Sheema Mukherjee) and tanpura (performed by the gorgeous Omar Shahryar) we're some of the real treats of the show, sadly not heard enough. Their wonderful relationship as players was clear as they sat on a carpet on a raised part of the stage. Kuljilt Bhamra played the tabla drums; his presence felt subtle and restrained. The two singers Allison Bell (soprano) and Marcus Farnsworths (baritone) guided us through the stacks of words for the piece. The singing from the two of them was assured and a bit proud. The cello soloist Natalie Clein gave insight to the comos, but I've heard Tavener write much better cello writing. We all have.
Martyn Brabbins, The Sinfonia and singers, who were scattered around the auditorium were stars tonight. Showing just what they were capable of. Resounding playing, fabulous and perfumed singing and chanting. Impressive is an understatement.
It felt like a better than lukewarm reception from the audience. Some members walking out, as if they could not bear to hear the same music over and over again.
The final moments with the two players on the sitar and tapura were touching as we realised a composer's life and music were quickly coming to an end. Something that will stay with me.
Here's to hearing more by the late, great English mystic soon.
The tributes to John Tavener continue tonight at Milton Court Concert Hall, with a performance of his Oboe Concerto, Kaleidoscopes. Also Sunday 5th October sees at the Barbican Total Immersion: John Tavener Remembered, a day of talks, films and concerts. The evening concert will feature The Protecting Veil.
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