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John Tavener’s Christmas Sequence Breaks New Ground

November 13, 2008

The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, sings works by John Tavener on a new release from Naxos (TAVENER: Ex Maria Virgine 8.572168), available in November 2008. Shirley Ratcliffe went to the recording session…

“Because of his long association with the college, John Rutter is the producer: ‘It perhaps seems strange that a composer should have a sideline in record production, but for me it was a natural outgrowth of my lifelong interest in the recording process,’ he says. ‘My old friends David Dunnett and David Lowe, who look after the music at Norwich Cathedral, introduced me to this magnificent space and its glorious organ, which is exactly the sort of instrument I know John Tavener had in mind. The sessions are going smoothly with minimal prompting from me; Tim and the choir show unflagging stmina in the face of Tavener’s intense and demanding music.’

“‘Ex Maria Virgine breaks important new ground in the world of Christmas music,’ Brown maintains. ‘For the past 50 years it has been carol arrangements, not original pieces, that have been at the centre of Christmas Programmes in this country. Brave—and usually foolhardy—has been the composer who dared to write new music to familiar words; the words without the tune, tried and tested by time, seemed to be missing an essential ingredient. Now at last a composer has taken those familiar words, no more so than Rocking or Ding! Dong! Merrily on High, and added music that is not only original but immediately convincing. In part its success lies in the harmonic style that Tavener has adopted. While there are plenty of examples of slow-moving chord sequences, parallel chords and long, held notes, the overwhelming impression is of a harmony that finds its roots in the traditional language of Christmas carols.

“‘Ex Maria Virgine is demanding. Even the (apparently) simplest pieces challenge the best of choirs from the point of view of intonation, with so much parallel writing, to say nothing of the difficulty of sustaining high tessituras for a significant period of time, or the overall stamina required, but the rewards are tangible and lasting. This music, like so much of Tavener’s, gets “under the skin” in an indefinable but undeniable way.’”

- Shirley Ratcliffe, Choir & Organ, November 2008

The album features John Tavener’s  Ex Maria Virgine, Birthday Sleep, O Do Not Move, A Nativity, Marienhymne, O Thou Gentle Light and Angels.

TAVENER: Ex Maria Virgine
Berkieta; Jacobs; McVinnie; Clare College Choir, Cambridge; Brown


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