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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Written in 2002 and lasting almost an hour, Lament for Jerusalem is one of the most tautly conceived of Taverner’s essays in spiritual minimalism. It consists of seven cycles, each beginning with a quotation form Psalm 137, ‘By the Waters of Babylon’, and each following a similar layout with an instrumental texture, solos for counter-tenor and soprano, and a final choral lament. What is specially impressive is the juxtaposition of vocal forces of varying sizes, with Summerly drawing incandescent singing from his choir of just over 30 singers, sounding far bigger than that thanks to the warmly atmospheric recording, made in the church of All hallows Gospel Oak. Equally, the cycles expand as the work progresses, making it more than just a repetitive litany. Outstanding solo singing too from Angharad Gryffydd Jones and Peter Crawford.



John Quinn
MusicWeb International, August 2008

In June 2005 I reviewed the première recording of this work by the primarily Australian forces for whom it was written (see review). What we have here, however, is not simply a second recording of the piece. Instead it’s a recording of a version incorporating a reduced orchestral scoring. Tavener made this version in 2004 specifically for The Choir of London (see website). They and their orchestra aired it at their inaugural concert together in London in December 2004 and in that same month they took the piece with them and performed it at concerts in the Holy Land. Hence, this reduced version is referred to in the booklet as the ‘Jerusalem Version’ of the piece.

In my previous review I quoted the composer’s own comment about the work, which I think bears repeating here. “Jerusalem is a universal symbol which signifies the changeless and celestial synthesis of the Cosmos, and the primordial longing of man for God. The Lament is a sign, therefore, and a lament for the lost paradise that is universal.” He goes on to explain that “[Lament for Jerusalem is] a love song, lamenting our banishment from home, and the temporary loss of our beatific vision.”

I’m sure that it’s not without symbolic significance that Lament combines elements from three distinct religious traditions, all of which have close associations with the earthly city of Jerusalem. There is the Christic tradition (Christ’s lament for the city of Jerusalem, as recounted in St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 23); then there is the Judaic tradition, represented by words from Psalm 137 (“By the waters of Babylon”); finally, there is the Islamic tradition, represented here by words from an Islamic mystical poem, Masnavi. Tavener allots the Christic text, in Greek, to the choir; the Judaic words are sung by both the chorus and the soprano soloist; the countertenor declaims the Islamic verses.

Lament is constructed in seven Stanzas, though on this Naxos disc these are further sub-divided into a Stanza, which is the opening choral section, followed by a Cosmic Lament, which contains the remaining music of the stanza. Each stanza begins with the chorus singing in unison. With the exception of the final stanza their words are always taken from Psalm 137. At each of these appearances of the choir the music has increasing power. The Cosmic Laments are always introduced by the countertenor, who sings a passage from the Islamic text. Fittingly, his music suggests the ornate vocalizing of a muezzin. He’s always followed by the soprano soloist and each time her text concludes with a touchingly simple “Alleluia”, in Greek. Then the choir, this time singing homophonically, gradually unfolds the Christic text in Greek. With each succeeding stanza the amount of text that is sung is gradually expanded and also the music grows in power and majesty. Finally, each stanza concludes with a short refrain sung very quietly by an unaccompanied semi chorus.

There are two absolutely crucial differences between this Naxos release and the earlier ABC disc, and I wonder if the two are related. One is the size of the respective forces employed. The other is to do with pacing and timings. Jeremy Summerly takes 54:35 for the whole work, while Thomas Woods (ABC) requires just 49:16. That’s quite a significant difference and a comparison of the timings for each of the seven stanzas shows that Summerly is consistently slower than his colleague. It may be that this difference is “simply” a matter of interpretation but I wonder if the smaller forces enabled Summerly to dare to be broader? It’s possible that had Woods wished to adopt similar tempi his larger forces might have sounded too heavy. Actually, I think both approaches work equally well and, to my ears at least, are validated by the size of the respective performing forces. In a nutshell, the greater intimacy afforded by Summerly’s smaller choir and orchestra both allows and vindicates broader tempi.

How do the two performances compare? Both pairs of soloists are good. Christopher Josey, the ABC countertenor, has a rounder, more sensuous and overtly expressive tone than Peter Crawford (Naxos). In terms of sound Crawford is firmly in the English cathedral countertenor tradition, which some may prefer to Josey’s more exotic sound. Crawford sings very well and with fine feeling but I think that perhaps Josey’s more refulgent tone is slightly more appropriate for the style of the music. Let me hasten to add, however, that no one buying this Naxos release should feel short changed by Crawford.

Soprano Angharad Gruffydd Jones, a new name to me, is up against fearsome competition for the soloist on the ABC disc is none other than Patricia Rozario. Miss Rozario is perhaps more closely identified with Tavener’s music than any other singer and he has written several parts with her voice specifically in mind. Lament for Jerusalem is a case in point, I believe and her distinctive timbre suits the music admirably. However, Miss Gruffydd Jones is by no means put in the shade by her illustrious rival. She sings very well indeed, projecting the music with conviction and with lovely purity of tone. I enjoyed her performance very much.

The choral singing is first rate on both releases. Of course, we are dealing with two very different approaches here for the sound of a small choir of thirty one (Naxos) is very different to that made by a full sized choir (ABC) I very much like the Naxos disc in terms of the ambience and clarity imparted by the smaller choir. That said, there’s inevitably more grandeur and sheer weight of tone from the larger choral—and orchestral—forces on the ABC disc, and this tells for Lament grows in cumulative power as each stanza unfolds. But it’s important to realise that we are addressing here two completely different conceptions of the same music, each of which is completely valid, not least because the composer has specifically sanctioned, and indeed encouraged them. One advantage that I did feel the ABC disc has is that the semi chorus is more clearly differentiated from the main choir as compared with the Naxos release, where I believe that just three singers form the semi chorus.

I’m not entirely sure what modifications Tavener has made to the orchestral scoring for this ‘Jerusalem’ version of the score but so far as I’m aware the original score calls for a full symphony orchestra. The precise forces are helpfully listed in the Naxos booklet and, for example, it seems that Tavener has eliminated horns and heavy brass from the full scoring, retaining just the three trumpets. I find that the reduced scoring works perfectly well and none of the important colouristic effects called for, not least in terms of exotic percussion, appear to have been sacrificed.

Finally, I can report that the documentation on the Naxos release is comprehensive, including the text, and that the recorded sound is first rate. Those comments apply to the ABC release too, by the way…



John Terauds
Toronto Star, April 2006

Every Holy Week, many Christians either sing or hear the Old Testament Lamentations of Jeremiah which mourn the violence and destruction that have beset Jerusalem. British composer John Tavener (born in 1945) has re-mixed the Lamentations with texts from other faiths, creating an emotionally potent brew of meditation, despair and hope. The Choir of London with soloists, under Jeremy Summerly, gives an intense, moving reading of a version they performed in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem in December 2004.



Wilma Salisbury
Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 2006

British composer John Tavener combines Christian, Judaic and Islamic texts in a mystical ritual that resonates with chiming bells, low-pitched drones, jagged melodies, streams of consonant chords and ecstatic alleluias. The large-scale work unfolds in seven tableaux, each identically structured.

The choir sings closely harmonized Hebrew verses from Psalm 137. The orchestra evokes a sense of the cosmos in a series of widely spaced tones. A countertenor utters 13th-century love poems of Rumi in English translation.

A soprano, doubled by solo flute, takes up the song, returning to the Hebrew psalm and introducing the chorus’s heartwrenching lament for the city of Jerusalem. The slow-paced sequences build into a majestic vision of an ethereal sphere where major religions coexist in peace.

Shaping an inspiring performance, the ensemble sings and plays with the fervor of true believers. A





Sefton Wiggs
New Bern (North Carolina) Sun Journal, April 2006

The spiritually-inclined music of Englishman John Tavener does not always appeal to me as much as that of the Estonian Arvo Part, but a new recording of Tavener’s “Lament for Jerusalem” has me thinking and reassessing my opinion.

Both composers have been members of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church and each man has written music that espouses that religion. Both men seem sincere, but Part’s music has simply been a bit more appealing to me.

But just as I’ve been listening to—and greatly enjoying—Tavener’s “Lament for Jerusalem” I’ve learned through other music directors around the country that the composer has had second doubts and is now claiming a more agnostic view of life. While that seems to have outraged some people on my list serve, I’ve been willing to take it in stride and listen to the music objectively.

Tavener—he’s now Sir John—was born into a Presbyterian family in London. Some bios give his year of birth as 1945, but most list January 28, 1944 as his birth date. It was his switch to the Orthodox faith that seems to have put his music in forward mode. Although he had composed since childhood, it’s the music that has come since his conversion that has attracted the most comment and the most listeners.

“Lament for Jerusalem” is described by the composer as “a mystical love song.” The work is based on Christian, Judaic, and Islamic texts and is sung in English and Greek. I haven’t been able to track down the original composition date for this work, but Tavener reworked the music especially for the Choir of London and Orchestra’s visit to Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem in December of 2004. This new recording from Naxos is performed by those same forces with conductor Jeremy Summerly. Angharad Gruffydd Jones is the solo soprano and Peter Crawford is the solo countertenor.

This recording was made just last year in London. The acoustic is wonderful and the CD is beautifully recorded.

The religious side of this music and the composer’s dedication to it is up to individual listeners. To this reviewer, the music and this performance deserve a good serious listen from anyone interested in this type of music.

Be prepared, there is nothing very exciting here. It’s nearly 55 minutes of slow, but very beautiful music.

And one thing that has struck me while listening to this. Occasionally I hear a bit of the music from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Requiem” from about 25 years ago. Talk about a switch from the theatrical to the sublime! Oh, well, both Tavener and Lloyd Webber have gained knighthood.



Rick Anderson
Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, April 2006

…this cri de coeur over the multilayered tragedies in the Middle East is well written, beautifully performed and genuinely affecting. A fine introduction to the work of one of our era’s more puzzling talents.



Robert Benson
ClassicalCDReview.com, March 2006

This premiere recording of John Tavener’s Lament for Jerusalem is a major addition to the composer’s discography. Tavener calls it “a mystical love song,” with text, including Christian, Judaic and Islamic texts, sung either in Greek or English. The composer comments that Jerusalem is a universal symbol signifying the changeless and celestial synthesis of the Cosmos and the primordial longing of man for God. Each of the seven sections of this 55-minute work consists of a stanza followed by a cosmic lament. Lament for Jerusalem is gentle, powerful music of serene beauty, with soprano and counter-tenor soloists—you won’t find the cataclysmic choral/orchestral outbursts heard in many of the composer’s large-scale choral works. Lament, composed in 2002, was rewritten two years later for the 31-member Choir of London and Orchestra and their conductor Jeremy Summerly who gave the premiere of the revised version in December, 2004; this recording was made a few months later. The performance is perfection, beautifully recorded with warm, spacious acoustics. Complete texts are provided. Another major addition to Naxos’ series of Tavener recordings!




David Patrick Stearns
The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 2006

Though some of John Tavener’s past output has seemed to use religiosity as an excuse for scant musical content, his works in recent years have been evolving toward a seamless synthesis of English choral writing and his Eastern influences, of which this Lament for Jerusalem is perhaps the best example so far.

Though full of moments of choral monumentality, the details constantly prick your ears with exotically tinged vocal lines not normally found in Western music. Also, Tavener’s musical ideas have reached a sort of emblematic refinement that, no matter how often they’re repeated, offer new shade of meaning. Besides being musically substantial, the overall sound of this disc is so invitingly sumptuous that it rewards casual listening as well.



Robert Levine
Amazon.com, March 2006

This recording is a call for rejoicing for Tavener fans. Even those who have found his music turgid in the past might be taken with the austere beauty of the Lament. It refers to Jesus’ lament as he looks over Jerusalem realizing that it has rejected God’s messengers. The text brings together Christian, Judaic, and Islamic texts and are sung in English and Greek. The choir alternates with countertenor and soprano. While the work relies heavily on thematic repetition, the effect is devout and introspective rather than static, and Tavener’s strong changes in dynamics and textures keeps the ear engaged; indeed the ear catches the differences, rather than the samenesses. It is a work that requires patience, and Tavener’s piety can seem overwhelming and preachy, but there is great beauty to be found here. The performances of soloists, choir and orchestra under Jeremy Summerly are exquisite and graceful; in particular, counter-tenor Peter Crawford handles his high, melismatic passages beautifully.



Alan Artner
Chicago Tribune, March 2006

John Tavener wrote his “Lament for Jerusalem” in 2002, later preparing this scaled-down version for the present forces, who presented it in Jerusalem and the West Bank two years ago. He calls it a “mystical love song” to the city, and it’s in seven linked “cycles” that last just under an hour. Each cycle has solos for countertenor and soprano flanked by choruses. The texts are Christian, Judaic and Islamic; they are sung in Greek and English.

The slow, mesmerizing music of each cycle initially may sound the same, though its few melodic and harmonic elements are subtly altered, with an ever-expanding closing chorus providing the most noticeable example. In this way, the score gradually, almost imperceptibly, achieves weight within apparent lightness. Pleasure for the listener comes through the exceptional purity achieved within alternating sacred and secular texts. The recording was made after the series of live performances in the Middle East, and it’s difficult to imagine any group showing closer identification with Tavener’s mysticism.



Edward Ortiz
Sacramento Bee, March 2006

Bringing together Christian, Judaic and Islamic texts sung in Greek and English, composer John Tavener has created a choral work that is both beguiling and lyrically mystical. Described by Tavener as a “mystical love song,” “Lament for Jerusalem” is a timely, thought-provoking CD that plumbs the fraught conditions that have befallen the Holy Land. Originally written for full orchestra, this “Lament” is reduced by Tavener for choir and employs a haunting four-note motif that reappears through seven musical tableaux.

Tavener is known for writing biblical cantatas and requiems, and doing so with a mystical touch, and this disc is no exception. It stays true to Tavener’s eclectic and transcendental approach that employs repetition and sustained chords—kind of like Steve Reich gone church side. It’s reflective, sometimes grim and often hypnotic music. The CD is elegantly graced by soprano Angharad Gruffydd Jones and countertenor Peter Crawford. This is deceptively simple, no-nonsense choir music that gets under your skin in unconventional ways. Tavener’s focus here is the Holy Land, but the musical point being made is applicable to anywhere there is an unanswered cry of suffering.



ClassicalCDReview.com

This premiere recording of John Tavener’s Lament for Jerusalem is a major addition to the composer’s discography. Tavener calls it “a mystical love song,” with text, including Christian, Judaic and Islamic texts, sung either in Greek or English. The composer comments that Jerusalem is a universal symbol signifying the changeless and celestial synthesis of the Cosmos and the primordial longing of man for God. Each of the seven sections of this 55-minute work consists of a stanza followed by a cosmic lament. Lament for Jerusalem is gentle, powerful music of serene beauty, with soprano and counter-tenor soloists—you won’t find the cataclysmic choral/orchestral outbursts heard in many of the composer’s large-scale choral works. Lament, composed in 2002, was rewritten two years later for the 31-member Choir of London and Orchestra and their conductor Jeremy Summerly who gave the premiere of the revised version in December, 2004; this recording was made a few months later. The performance is perfection, beautifully recorded with warm, spacious acoustics. Complete texts are provided. Another major addition to Naxos’ series of Tavener recordings!






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