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Reviewed by:
  • Fall and Resurrection
  • Steve York
Sir John Tavener. Fall and Resurrection. DVD. City of London Sinfonia, BBC Singers, St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir / Richard Hickox. Recorded live at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London on 0401 2000. With Patricia Rozario, Michael Chance, Martyn Hill, Stephen Richardson, Adrian Peacock. Waldron, Heathfield, East Sussex: Opus Arte, 2005. OA 0841 D. $26.99.

John Tavener's Fall and Resurrectionattempts to, in the composer's words, "... encompass, in brief glimpses, the events which have taken place since the beginning of time, and before time." These glimpses take us from chaos, representing the beginning of time, to the rise and fall of Adam and Eve, through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ in a work approximately seventy minutes in duration. The work is based upon the Byzantine chant "Som Rsatqom rot" (Thy Cross we adore). Although most occurrences of this melody lie well within a thick musical texture, [End Page 178]one can occasionally hear variations of it played by the kaval (a ney flute with origins in ancient Egypt) and in other voices or instruments in some of the less complex moments.

The Saint Paul's Cathedral setting provides a grand acoustical canvas for this recording. The program notes state that this work should always be performed in a large, acoustically live space to best display some of the more unusual instruments such as the kaval flute, a ram's horn that plays a fanfare announcing the arrival of the Logos or Christ, and Tibetan temple bowls. In addition, the video producers use every corner of the building to set various visual moods. Colored lighting, in addition to creative camera angles throughout the cathedral (including straight down from the highest ceiling)adds to the mysterious nature of the work.

Tavener, a deeply religious man, claims the work was inspired by a vision. It opens with silence, followed by an instrumental representation of chaos. On first listening, the sound of chaos is an oft-repeated theme in the work with, for example, the playing of quick random scales up and down and the chorus repeating one or two word phrases in quick succession, either together or at each individual singer's own pace. Tavener may have taken this effect a little too far. His vision also takes on "dream-like" characteristics throughout the work, including instances of the strings using harmonics to interesting effect, and choral sections evoking an ethereal tone with elongated step-wise phrases, and open intervals.

In addition to the cacophonous sounds produced in the work, there are immensely sublime moments. Countertenor Michael Chance, arguably one of the top performers of his voice type, provides a range of vocal sounds from dance-like "vocal gymnastics" to tender and melodic lines sung to the text of the prophets and the psalmists in the work's second part. Other soloists also carry their roles well. Soprano Patricia Rozario and bass Stephen Richardson are each able to take on challenging vocal requirements, including creating a vibrating effect with fast repetitions of the first vowel sound of the word "apple" while portraying Adam and Eve, and later in the work, Rozario floats several high Ds with little difficulty. Bass Adrian Peacock portrays God, Christ, and the devil, mostly unaccompanied. There is much to appreciate in this work, and several listenings may be required to hear its nuances. Additional features of the disc include two interviews with Tavener; one specifically about this work (ten minutes), and another delving more generally into his religious beliefs and music (sixteen minutes).

Steve York
Christopher Newport University


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