Tavener's pieces have been notable for length. From Ultimos Ritos to the all-night Veil of the Temple, he has allowed his eschatological utterance to take its time. These chamber settings of German verse by the mystic Frithjof Schuon, interspersed with instrumental canons, may add up to an hour but place new emphasis on miniaturism. No song exceeds five minutes, and the first canon is a mere eight seconds. The songs have a pungent, explosive clarity, with Rozario as commanding in Tavener's idiom as ever. There is much charm and delicate invention here, and even a quote from Schubert.
Paul Driver, Sunday Times, 10/30/2005
In the Schuon Lieder, completed two years ago, Tavener sets some of Schuon's poems for soprano, piano, string quartet and four Tibetan temple bowls, exploring what the composer describes as their "sacral, erotic nature". The 19 songs are interspersed with brief, spidery canons for the string quartet, each of which develops the material of the preceding song, while quotations and allusions - to Mozart, Bach, Webern, Messiaen and Schubert - are woven into the textures, too. The vocal writing, tailored as ever for Patricia Rozario's voice, is rapt, devotional, and in its way as ritualised as in Tavener's earlier works, though it does have an ethereal beauty all its own.
, The Guardian, 10/30/2005
Schuon Lieder is John Tavener with a difference: concise in form and various in colours, with melodic contours that often connect more with Schubert and Strauss than the composer's usual modal meditations. We should thank in part his source material: 19 German poems by Frithjof Schuon, a Swiss Sufi philosopher, that celebrate divine love with an autumnal mood. Rozario soars impressively as the Schubert Ensemble caress, scurry and chime. It's Tavener's most beguiling piece in years.
Geoff Brown, The Times, 10/14/2005
John Tavener has discovered a soul-mate in the Swiss mystic writer Frithjof Schuon. In the last four years before his death in 1998, Schuon wrote some 3,000 poems on the theme of the ever-presence of God, in nature, music and 'the eternal feminine'. Tavener's 2003 Schuon Lieder consists of settings of 19 of his poems for soprano, piano quintet and Tibetan temple bowls, linked into a continuous sequence by canonic interludes for strings and an instrumental postlude. Tavener's verse-and-refrain structures are familiar in his output. But what's new here is their range of references to other music: Indian, medieval, and above all the German tradition [...] There are certainly moments of glowing epiphany [...]
Anthony Burton, BBC Music Magazine, 12/1/2005
Schuon's syncretist approach to religion has been feflected in the wider reach of Tavener's music in recent years. The dominant influence of the Orthodox tradition, and a kind of orbital stasis in relation to an ideal of perfection, had become something of an obstruction to Tavener's musical development, but Schuon's example seems to have inspired him to draw in elements from several cultural traditions, with the result that his music has become, as in this work, more colourful and vigorous, if less ethereally beautiful, and sometimes more brittle.
Like the choral Schuon Hymnen, the Schuon Lieder was written in 2003 and centres on poems mostly written towards the end of the philosopher's 91 years; 19 of these verses, ranging from the gnomic, haiku-like aphorisms to ecstatic mystical invocations, are interleaved with dense and very brief (some as short as eight seconds) four-part canons for strings. The Schubert Ensemble play with clarity and precision, and Patricia Rozario, as ever, serves Tavener's music with conviction and understanding.
Barry Witherden, The Gramophone, 12/1/2005
Schuon Lieder, written in 2004, projects an emotional intimacy rarely found in Tavener's monumental sacred works, especially those cast in his Orthodox, ultra-spritual mode. That is not to say he has lost touch with matters spiritual or the power of ritual repetition, as is plain from Schuon's poetry, its 'God is love' message and Tavener's response to it. Quotes from Mozart and Schubert and allusions to the music of Bach and Webern place this music closer to the heart of the Westen classical tradition than Tavener would have allowed a decade ago. And yet the 'new' Tavener, in pursuit of Schuon's universalist philosophy, manages to infuse his style with traces of music from other traditions and cultures, creating something both fresh and timeless in the process. Lullabies and love songs, exquisitely performed here by Patricia Rozario and The Schubert Ensemble, contribute to the cycle's eloquent, concentrated expression of human as well as mystical concerns.
Andrew Stewart, Classic FM Magazine, 1/1/2006
For a composer who once proudly declared himself outside of the stream of western Classical music and all that it had achieved since Medieval times, John Tavener's new song-cycle Schuon Lieder, premiered just over a year ago by these same forces, marks something of a rapprochement with the dominant tradition. Allied to that, Tavener's once fervently held beliefs in the tenets of the Greek Orthodox church have in recent years weakened or broadened, depending on your perspective, in favour of a more 'universalist' approach. His embrace of Hindu, Sufi and other texts was heard to impressive effect in The Veil of the Temple and is now evident in these settings of poems by the Swiss Sufi master Frithjof Schuon in their original German.
Tavener's long-term collaborator, the soprano Patricia Rozario, is joined by the Schubert Ensemble - a piano quintet with occasional chiming accompaniment on Tibetan temple bells. Of the 19 poems that Tavener has set, the allusions to Schubert, Bach of the Passions in the reflective No 7 and Messiaen in the highly coloured piano-writing of No 12 are striking. Noticeable to a greater extent, however, is a darker, troubled, more expressive quality that is a genuine departure for the composer. Interesting too are the atonal and unsettling four-part canons that separate each song from its successor. Take the piano's repeated battering phrase during No 10, 'Da draussen vor dem Tore', for example, or the Expressionist world of No 12, which Tavener sees as the centrepiece of the cycle. In this song, where Rozario uses the full extent of her range, the violin duetting with the cello in its lowest register and the piano's repeated high-octave figure are almost Schoenbergian. And all this is in contrast to Tavener's more familiar declarations, in the same song, where the soprano is accompanied by the string ensemble, sure and tonal, mirroring her phrases exactly.
All told, this is fascinating, innovative and well-performed release.
Robert Stein, International Record Review, 12/1/2005