Three sacred texts, one Christian, one Judaic, One Islamic, combine here in what Tavener describes as a ‘mystical love song’. The composer’s aim, to heal the world’s divisions through music of transcendent beauty, may sound New Age. And yet the ideal is rooted in ancient writings about music’s mystical powers, just as Tavener’s recent ‘universal’ works, the Lament for Jerusalem outstanding among them, connect with an age-old human longing for God. There’s an erotic charge in the Lament that at once seduces the ear and demands spiritual contemplation intensely realised in this premiere recording by Jeremy Summerly’s Choir of London and his excellent soloists.
Andrew Stewart, Classical FM, 4/1/2006
The title may have all sorts of uncomfortable resonances today, but John Tavener's Lament for Jerusalem is in fact a meditation on an age-old theme. Jerusalem the Holy City of three different faiths becomes the archetypal sacred place: a reallocation in which one may encounter the Divine. So why a lament? Because what Tavener calls 'the endless and despairing ugliness' of modern life - religious as well as secular - shows how estranged we have becomes from the truly sacred. So we hear Jewish, Christian and Muslim (Sufi) texts in which love and grief intermingle.
As in much of Tavener's work, ritualistic repetition (often with a minimum of change) is central. But unlike other large-scale quasi-liturgical pieces such as Resurrection or The Veil of the Temple, there is no sense of a journey, however slow and measured. The basic dements - rich, chant-like choral writing, poignant hymn-like or Middle-Eastern- inflected solos - circle around each other until the process just stops. This will be a problem for some listeners. But if one accepts that this is a rite, not a dramatic, developing piece of Western symphonic music, the contained beauty can be quite mesmerizing. It's hard to imagine it better performed, or recorded. The choral writing in particular is a lot more difficult to sing than it sounds - full marks there, and Peter Crawford is a wonderfully dignified countertenor. Recommended to the faithful; agnostics might do better to start with The Veil of the Temple.
Stephen Johnson, BBC Music Magazine, 4/1/2006
…an impressive example of his ability to generate large, architectural spans of music from the slenderest material and the simplest of ritualised processes. Composed in 2002, it was described by Tavener as a ‘mystical love song’, and combines texts from Christian, Islamic and Judaic sources, sung in English and Greek, to create a sequence of seven cycles. Each cycle follows the same pattern, with a choral setting of a passage from a psalm followed by an instrumental lament, solos for countertenor and soprano, and a final choral lament. As the work goes on, however, the different elements in each cycle are extended and elaborated, so that what seems like a repetitive formula actually takes on an unexpected power and interest.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 3/24/2006
Lament was premiered in Australia in 2003 but this disc features a revised version Tavener prepared for the Choir of London’s visit to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem in December 2004.
Through the purity of his musical gestures he achieves an intensity that can affect listeners regardless of their own religious convictions.
Barry Witherden, The Gramophone, 5/1/2006
The third cycle, with particularly lyrical writing for the soloists, and yearning surges of rich choral harmonies as the lament intensifies for ‘the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it’ shows the piece, and all performing it, at their finest.
Terry Blain, Muso Magazine, 5/1/2006
Summerly and his London musicians have certainly taken the work very much to heart and see in it a profound yearning for peace, reconciliation and love. The reduced orchestral backdrop places extra emphasis on the voices and these London singers respond with some powerful, luminous and, at times, ecstatic singing.
Each of the first six of the seven ‘cycles’ opens with the chorus singing words from Psalm 137 (representing, as it were, Judaism), followed by texts from the thirteenth-century Islamic spiritual writer Jalaluddin Rumi, sung by the countertenor Peter Crawford. In this, Tavener is showing a real touch of genius; the extra pathos created by the voice’s naturally pleading quality (a quality beautifully conveyed by Crawford) gives it an indescribable poignancy. The soprano follows with more verses from Psalm 137, leading to a three-fold ‘Alleluia’ (Angharad Gruffydd Jones soaring to glorious heights of ecstasy in the second cycle), and it is completed by the chorus singing, in Greek, the ‘Lament for Jerusalem’ taken from the Gospel of St Matthew. The spiritual and emotional climax of the work comes with the choral statement of the Islamic texts at the start of the seventh and final cycle. Here, it has to be said, the Choir of London shines with blazing intensity, making this, seen from any religious, spiritual, emotional or artistic perspective, a rare moment on disc of the truly sublime.
Marc Rochester, International Record Review, 4/1/2006