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CD Review

Morten Lauridsen

Lux aeterna and other Choral Works

  • Lux aeterna
  • Madrigali
  • Ave Maria
  • Ubi Caritas et Amor
  • Magnum mysterium
Polyphony
Britten Sinfonia/Stephen Layton
Hyperion CDA67449 67m
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Also released on SACD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - JPC

What a beautiful disc this is! There have been plenty of choirs who have tackled this music, but few have been able to display the nuance and virtuosity of Polyphony under Stephen Layton. Mr. Lauridsen's fame has only grown since Mr. Gerald Fenech reviewed the SACD edition of this disc in 2005 (Hyperion SACDA67449), and his work has cemented a firm place in the repertoire. Many of these works share a similar sound world, with Lux aeterna serving as inspiration for the later motets.

The only work with orchestra here is Lux aeterna. A beautiful and uninterrupted choral cycle crafted from texts on light, the intimate nature of the cycle thrives on close harmonies and carefully sculpted dynamics. Highlights include "O nata lux", the third-movement a cappella section that works equally well as a stand-alone piece, and the lifting and fleet "Veni, Sancte Spiritus". I may be alone, but I have never particularly enjoyed the Los Angeles Master Chorale's recording under the late Paul Salamunovich, finding the acoustics heavy and the orchestra sub-par. Hyperion's engineering flatters everyone a good deal more, and the Britten Sinfonia is sensitive and alert. Layton does take some liberties with phrasing that occasionally interrupt the music's water-like flow, but the voices of Polyphony are outstanding.

The Madrigali provide a distinct contrast, and date from ten years earlier. Now almost 30 years old, this highly evocative song cycle shows a confident mastery of the choral idiom and heralds the composers' later style. Polyphony provides dynamic and supremely articulated readings of each of the five poems, while conductor Stephen Layton provides his customary skill on the podium. The three motets are all similar in style to Lux aeterna. "O magnum mysterium" is easily the most famous, and now has a well-regarded brass arrangement to go with its more recognizable choral version. Perhaps the "Ave Maria" and "Ubi caritas et amor" are somewhat overlong given their original source texts, but it's impossible to deny just how moving this music is. Curiously, very few choirs have devoted time to this music on disc despite its popularity. I consider this the finest available program of these specific works. If you love choral music, I insist you give this a try.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman

Trumpet