The Protecting Veil

12 Nov


Rather unexpectedly I find that I’m writing about a classical album. As I was driving home from work today I was actually thinking what I was going to write about Deep Purple but when I looked at the BBC website, I saw the death had been announced of Sir John Tavener (1944 – 2013), who was unique in being the only contemporary classical composer represented in my music collection – and well-represented too with five CDs!  While he probably reached his widest audience when his “Song for Athene’ was played at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales,  ‘The Protecting Veil’ is another of his better-known pieces.

This  40+ minute piece for cello and orchestra  was composed in 1987 and has been recorded  by numerous ensembles, conductors and soloists but the version I have was issued in 1992 on Virgin Classics (0777 7590522 9)  and features Steven Isserlis as soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. In addition the CD includes another  piece by Tavener (‘Thrinos’,  a piece for  solo cello) and Benjamin Britten’s ‘Third Suite for Cello’ (opus 87).

As is often the case with classical albums, there’s a really informative essay about the composer,  performers and compositions – from which I learned that the inspiration for the piece is the Russian Orthodox Feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God and that each of the eight sections represents aspects of  her. Apparently Tavener described the composition as ‘an attempt to make a lyrical ikon in sound, rather than in wood’.  The composer was, by all accounts, a deeply spiritual man and this shines through.

While not sharing John Tavener’s faith, I find the piece profoundly moving – solemn, meditative, uplifting, calming and more.  To liken it to New Age music would not be accurate – but Tavener’s work is unlike pretty much anything else in my collection – including all my classical CDs.  If you come across CDs featuring his compositions, given it a try if you want to explore something different.


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