Sir John Tavener - Ikon of Light - Funeral Ikos - The Lamb

A budget-priced re-issue of this landmark recording from 1984.

The Lamb is conducted by the composer.

"Ikon of Light comes steeped in the traditional soundscape of Orthodox worship and is timeless in its musical response to the idea of an icon opening a window on eternity. It was commissioned by The Tallis Scholars whose atmospheric early recording is hard to beat." Michael White, BBC Music Magazine, December 2013.

For the track list and album notes and to buy the CD or Album Download please click the link to the Hyperion Records website.


 Sometime back in the mid-1980s I was sent a review copy of the original LP recording on which all these performances (with the exception of the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete) first appeared. What my critical response was - or even who published my review - has long since been forgotten, but the LP continues frequently to grace my turntable. Ikon of Light, with its huge central 'Mystic Prayer to the Holy Spirit' characterised by soprano solos soaring above the magically weightless choral texture countered by basses descending into unfathomable depths, is some of the most profoundly beautiful music I know. It was also my first exposure to The Lamb, lovingly directed here by the composer himself, while the translucent 'Alleluias' of the Funeral Ikos have lost none of their power to stir visions of glorious eternity even now, 30 years on.

Enjoying a close working relationship with Tavener at the time, The Tallis Scholars imbued these performances with a real sense of ownership and an innate feel for the graceful shaping of his chant-inspired lines. Even in their relative infancy, The Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips produced a remarkably distinctive sound, unerringly juxtaposing fervent melodies and impeccably enunciated texts (Jeremy White is faultless as he intones the words of St Andrew of Crete) with ecstatically shimmering choral textures in a way which, like the music, verges on the other-worldly. These are performances which will, inevitably, long outlive any critical response I might have to offer.

Marc Rochester

Tavener drove a Rolls-Royce, enjoyed resting in his deckchair on a summer afternoon and meditating, and was even known to enjoy playing badminton on his garden lawn at midnight. A playboy who converted to the Orthodox Church, Tavener was concerned with eternal, spiritual ‘truth', or seeking of the truth - a quest which brought the composer to an understanding of and fascination with all religions.

The seven-part Ikon of Light is the main work to be featured on the CD - the Tallis Scholars bringing a piercing, bell-like beauty to Tavener's visions:


Come, true light. Come, life eternal. Come, hidden mystery. Come, treasure without name. Come, reality beyond all words.

Their perfect diction and ethereal singing also serve Tavener's setting of William Blake's The Lamb, which is the one part of the collection conducted by the composer:

Little lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee? Gave thee life, and bid thee feed. By the stream and o'er the mead; Gave thee clothing of delight, Softest clothing, woolly, bright; Gave thee such a tender voice, Making all the vales rejoice?

Tavener's music is heavenly, and although works such as The Lamb have a tenderness and Englishness, the composer seems to have made his own tradition of universalism - his works bringing to mind thoughts of religious worship in ancient Greek churches, or isolation and revelation on a mountain-top in Nepal or Tibet. A CD of miracles, and miraculous sounds.

Stuart Millson

This classic disc from 1984 is reissued this month. It includes some of John Tavener’s finest works, many originally premiered by the Tallis Scholars themselves. Exquisite, restrained performances match the ascetic beauty of these choral works – there’s no better portrait of this contemporary musical giant.

The music on this disc is repertoire with which many people will not instinctively associate The Tallis Scholars. However, the same ultra-high standards of performance that characterise their recordings of Renaissance polyphony are just as apparent here. In passing, it's interesting to note that several of the singers who took part in these recordings over thirty years ago - artists such as Michael Chance, Charles Daniels, Peter Harvey and Mark Padmore - went on to become distinguished soloists in their own right.
So this is a disc that all admirers of Sir John Tavener should seek out. His music is exceptionally well served here and the pieces in question are all important ones. Though the recordings themselves are at least thirty years old they still sound extremely good. Originally planned as a seventieth birthday tribute, this disc is a now a most eloquent memorial to Sir John Tavener.

John Quinn

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