While the cover for this recording depicts Byzantine ikons, the message for the Western faithful soars above the ikonic portrayal of the subjects. These ikons are described as unique for the Orthodox faith, carrying special meanings for the worshiper. Each composition represents a very specific religious symbol or event, exquisitely expressed by Sir John Tavener.
Presented a capella in English by The Choir, a British mixed chorus, each composition bears unique inspiration and message for the listener. Each piece represents a personage or individual in Tavener's faith, which he characterizes as ikons as used in Orthodox religions. To those with other beliefs, the songs easily translate to symbols used in the Western tradition, evoking emotion and contemplation for the listener.
The voices of The Choir blend seamlessly, beckoning the hearer on to each phrase and cadence. In "Unwaning Light" the words are not intelligible, possibly from having the microphone too far away from Michael Burke. It is helpful in all the pieces to have the English text at hand to catch the words.
Poetry by Blake, Shakespeare, and biblical texts convey mystic contemplation, praise, awe, faith, contrition, and sorrow. "Song for Athene" (sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales), "...Tam Farrow", and "As One who has Slept" reduce us to sorrow even without knowing the titles or text.
"The Lamb" is beautiful as presented in a church service at any time of year, but is especially welcome during Advent, or for a baptism. "Magnificat" is generally thought of during Advent, also, but the wording of the canticle of Mary is appropriate for worship at any time; the dissonances make it sound more Eastern than several of the other pieces. Each composition conveys its ethereal poetry appropriately in the Western sanctuary as well as the Eastern setting.
If Sir John Tavener's hope is to convey "an inner vision" of his beliefs and feelings, these pieces have measured up to his desires. His efforts enrich the religious experience for any who wish to receive the beauty of his compositions.