Sir John Tavener (24.01.44-12.11.13) was, despite being something of an enigma, was the single most popular British classical composer of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Tavener first came to prominence with his cantata The Whale, premiered in 1968. The composer is best known for his extensive output of religious works, including The Lamb and Song for Athene which was sung at the funeral of Princess Diana.
However his most popular piece is The Protecting Veil (1987), written at the request of, and first performed by, the outstanding British cellist, Steven Isserlis at the BBC Proms in 1987. I remember vividly the reception this performance received from the small, but highly appreciative, audience in the Royal Albert Hall who were fortunate to be present at what I believe was Steven Isserlis’ first appearance at the Proms.
This work was then recorded by Steven Isserlis, but on this occasion with the London Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky (who Tavener admired immensely) on the Virgin Classics label. The Protecting Veil is a 45-minute musical icon to the Virgin Mary, which in this recording received tremendous critical acclaim and become an international best seller. Since then the work is not always regarded in such a positive light perhaps as a result of the prejudice of several critics in relation to popular works. At iClassical we still regard this work, ands in particular this recording, in a very positive light.
The work was described by John Tavener thus “I have tried to capture some of the almost cosmic power of the Mother of God. She is represented by the cello and never stops singing; the accompanying string music is an extension of her unending song.” Enjoy it on YouTube.