Tavener Requiem

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir
Metropolitan Cathedral (28th February 2008)

Reviewed by Dorothy Taylor

Are you religious? John Tavener is, and there is an intensity in his music which stirs an emotion in us that can only be described as devotional.

The composer’s explanation of his work is didactic in tone. But every word is sincere, and through the music you understand how “…when one’s false self is extinguished, the true self shines forth and we have…become one with God.”

Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral was completed at about the same time as John Tavener’s career began. Who could have predicted that forty years later the two would come together in such a perfect union of sound and space?

You can read elsewhere about the cruciform shape, the two conductors, the languages used, the source material. The performance was the thing: by turns “serene, radiant; ecstatic, mystical; wild, ferocious; with searing intensity; awesome, apocalyptic”, in Tavener’s words.

If the acoustic of this great space was a problem, there was no hint of it. Vasily Petrenko’s dancing left hand is matched by a sometimes startling expressiveness of tone from the orchestra. The same is true of the chorus, who brought both delicacy and power to the Requiem, ably conducted by Ian Tracey. The three soloists – Josephine Knight, cello; Elin Manahan Thomas, soprano; Andrew Kennedy, tenor – gave exquisite performances.

If the Culture Company do nothing else right, they must be congratulated for commissioning this work for 2008.

Within a few moments of the start we closed our programmes and our eyes and let the music carry us closer to being one with God. Am I religious? I am when I listen to Tavener.

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