For the composer John Tavener, who died aged 69 in 2013, creativity sprang from religious faith. Many of his works held an appeal for audiences that did not necessarily identify with contemporary music or the theological values from which he started. However, their response meant a great deal to him: he took their engagement as an affirmation that his music was operating on a spiritual level.
It took until halfway through Tavener’s career for him to receive substantial recognition. This came with The Protecting Veil (1989), the “icon in sound” for cello and strings inspired by the Mother of God and premiered at the BBC Proms by Steven Isserlis. The soloist found it to be “a gorgeous, romantic piece of music; the first performance was one of the highlights of my concert life”, and his 1992 recording was a bestseller. Five years later, Tavener achieved global celebrity when his Song for Athene (1993) closed the funeral service for Diana, Princess of Wales, televised from Westminster Abbey.
I had been aware of the music of Taverner for years, since his early association with the Beatles and Apple records back in the 1960s, but had paid little heed to his compositions. It was after hearing the Proms premiere of The Protecting Veil that I sat up and took notice. A concerto for cello and orchestra that (in my opinion) could be rated alongside the Dvorak and Elgar concertos and would I thought, become an established piece in the repertoire.
Sadly this does not seem to have happened, it is very rarely heard on the radio and according to the website http://www.musicsalesclassical.com/composer/work/8549, there have only been about a dozen performances worldwide in the last two years, and none of those by what one would consider leading international orchestras.
Perhaps it has not resonated with the modern-day cello virtuosi, or orchestras and conductors do not like playing the piece, or simply that it was tried out years ago and fell on deaf ears with audiences.
I remember buying the CD when it was originally released and revelling in the lush beauty of the music. If you have never heard it, give it a try, as I consider it one of the few genuine masterpieces of 20th century music and well worth the investment of forty-five minutes of anyones time.
The version I have chosen is by Maria Kliegel (cello) The Ulster Orchestra conducted by Takuo Yuasa and originally released on Naxos records.
Note: I am indebted to the original Guardian newspaper obituary for some information included above.