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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Davies: Taverner

03/16/2014 1:00 pm
03/16/2014 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

For the Second Sunday in Lent I offer you a "church opera." Peter Maxwell Davies' Taverner (1972) was his first opera; strangely, it had to wait until well into the twenty-first century to be released to the public on disc.

I have hitherto aired recordings of two of Davies' later operas, Resurrection (1987), which was broadcast on Sunday, September 8, 1996, and The Doctor of Myddfai (1995) on Sunday, February 5, 2000.

The subject of Taverner the opera is John Taverner (c. 1490-1545), who wrote much beautiful choral music for the Roman Catholic Church in Tudor England. Taverner stopped composing "popish ditties," so the story goes, and converted to Lutheranism. Act One of the opera shows us Taverner on trial for heresy. Then in Act Two, the heresy trial is turned upside down. Davies' ecclesiastical opera incorporates tweaked Renaissance dance music played on instruments of the period, among these the regal, a small reed organ. The score even quotes from Taverner's Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas.

Taverner the opera was recorded in concert performance in BBC's studios in December,1996 and subsequently broadcast over BBC Radio Three in April, 1997. Oliver Knussen conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra,the London Voices and the New London Children's Choir. Also heard in the Renaissance music sequences were His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts and the Fretwork consort of viols. John Taverner is tenor Martyn Hill.

In 2009 Taverner was issued on two NMC compact discs. Reviewing this recording for Fanfare magazine (Mar/Apr, 2010), Carson Cooman rates it as simply "superb." Oliver Knussen, he says, "... leads a strong cast in a definitive performance of the extremely difficult score...Taverner is a strong and compelling dramatic work that deserves to be heard." Keep listening, after the opera, for Taverner's entire Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas, as sung by the Tallis Scholars.