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Sir John Tavener: Towards Silence

Album Summary

>Tavener, John : Towards Silence, for 4 string quartets & large Tibetan temple bowl
Composer

Notes & Reviews:

This premiere recording of John Tavener's Towards Silence, written for four string quartets and a large Tibetan bowl, explores the nature of consciousness and the process of dying. Tavener had long wanted to write the work and persuaded Professor Paul Robertson (leader of the Medici Quartet and co-founder of the Music Mind Spirit Trust) to perform it. However, shortly after the manuscript was completed both men became critically ill and close to death themselves. By August 2008 Robertson had recovered sufficiently to resuscitate the project, which had now taken on personal significance for himself and for Tavener. Former members of the Medici Quartet immediately agreed to reform and identified young professional string quartets with whom to perform and to act as musical mentors.Tavener's vision was for all four quartets to be positioned high up in the cathedral dome, invisible to the audience, and arranged in the shape of a cross, bringing the Christian, Bhuddist and Hindu religions together. This sense of space has been captured in the recording, which is an SACD hybrid that can also be enjoyed on a surround sound setup."The musical scheme is one of progressive etiolation. The chiming of the bowl marks the passing of time, as the music – thrummed pizzicatos, winding melodies, quietly sustained chords - steadily withdraws into itself, contracting into string chords. Eventually they cease, and all that's left is the sound of the bowl, now a sustained sound rather than chimes, and gradually fading, too. For some in the audience it might have been a great spiritual experience, hard to separate from Tavener's own condition" - Andrew Clements, The Guardian (concert review)

"The musical scheme is one of progressive etiolation. The chiming of the bowl marks the passing of time, as the music – thrummed pizzicatos, winding melodies, quietly sustained chords - steadily withdraws into itself, contracting into string chords. Eventually they cease, and all that's left is the sound of the bowl, now a sustained sound rather than chimes, and gradually fading, too. For some in the audience it might have been a great spiritual experience, hard to separate from Tavener's own condition" - The Guardian

"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."-audaud.com

The Observer
Tavener continues to produce some of the most distinctive music in our time. His acutely original ear for sonority resonates throughout this extraordinary half-hour vision...I know of no music that takes us quite so near the edge of death.

Sunday Times, 2nd January 2011
This must count as one of Tavener's most powerful and sublime achievements.

BBC Music Magazine, February 2011
You can listen stereo, but Towards Silence really comes into its own on the multichannel SACD layer, where the work's quadraphonic deployment of four string quartets (plus Tibetan temple bowl) is truly immersive...the effect on the listener is anything but formulaic in this palpably committed premiere recording.

International Record Review, January 2011
It is enormously powerful, by turns lush and spare, with a simultaneous sense of the ritual and the sensual. Tavener has always been a profoundly inspired melodist, and there are joyous moments in this work when that gift comes into play...A glimpse of eternity.

Classic FM Magazine, April 2011
Admirers of Tavener's hypnotic style will not be disappointed with this world premiere recording...Tavener's ever-inventive textures are laced with the weird and wonderful singing sounds of the Tibetan bowl, while Winchester Cathedral's resonance is almost a player in its own right.



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Works Details

>Tavener, John : Towards Silence, for 4 string quartets & large Tibetan temple bowl
  • Running Time: 33 min. 45 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2007