Thomas, Oxley, Bach Choir, Philharmonia, Hill, review: A triumphant celebration of John Tavener

Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

There seems no end to the works which the late John Tavener can magically produce: ‘Oh where, tell me where?’ has now received its UK premiere by the Bach Choir for whom he wrote it, and though premiered in Shanghai it still had the tincture of novelty.

The title is the opening line of one of the three Scottish folksongs of which it is a setting, the others being ‘My love is like a red, red rose’ and ‘The Skye boat song’, each prefaced by a quasi-improvisation on tubular bells. The florid harmonies and angular tunings did not fight with the simple charm of the texts, and the work gained power from the sheer conviction with which it was sung; when Tavener moved into counterpoint, the vocal lines interlaced pleasingly.

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The Bach Choir

The rest of this celebration by the Philharmonia Orchestra under David Hill’s direction consisted of three of Tavener’s best-loved works. Raphael Wallfisch was the cello soloist in The Protecting Veil, with the orchestral strings laying down a lovely carpet of effects: smooth washes of sound, susurrations, and exultantly slicing discords.

After Song for Athene we got the Requiem with soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and tenor James Oxley as soloists: Tavener at his thunderous best, presented here in a panorama of dark magnificence.