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Morten Lauridsen – Choral Music
Polyphony / Britten Sinfonia / cond Stephen Layton

“Lux aeterna”
Lux aeterna
Madrigali: Six ‘Fire Songs' on Italian Renaissance Poems
Motets: Ave Maria; Ubi caritas; O magnum mysterium

Hyperion CDA67499 - Recorded 2003/04 – 67 mins

“Nocturnes” -

Mid-Winter Songs

Les chansons des roses

Motets: I will lift up mine eyes; O come, let us sing unto the Lord; Ave, dulcissima Maria


Hyperion CDA67580 -
Recorded 2006 – 65 mins  


Morten Lauridsen (born 1943) is one of America 's leading contemporary choral composers, but his works have not enjoyed the same wide currency in the UK . These two excellent discs from Hyperion serve to fill that gap, and together they include five out six of his major cycles and a fullish selection of his individual motets. Each disc provides a well contrasted programme, but I suspect that most collectors will wish to acquire both.


Lauridsen is a composer with a deep love of poetry who is much influenced by words. There is a central verbal theme running through each of his cycles - light, fire, winter, blossoms, night - which acts not merely as a link, but completely pervades the atmosphere, a unifying force for the whole.


Lux aeterna is the longest piece with five sequential sections. Outwardly it is spare and simplistic, but like a ray of light piercing a stained glass window, a rainbow of underlying musical harmonies is laid out for our enjoyment. Throughout there are echoes of traditional plainchant melodies – except for the Veni Sancti Spiritus where the setting is a highly original surprise. Generous orchestral postludes gently seal the mood of the piece.


Madrigali are a group of beautifully crafted, relatively short pieces, inspired by and stylistically reminiscent of Monteverdi. Beneath the polyphony is a single, primal sonority which the composer has identified as the “fire-chord” of the piece. A climax is reached in the fourth poem entitled Io piango where the act of weeping is poignantly reflected in the plaintive setting.


Mid-Winter Songs are settings of poems of Robert Graves. I happened to be travelling on an unheated train when I first played them, and I felt the chill redouble around me!


Les chansons des roses are completely captivating – from the joyous opening En une seule fleur which mirrors all the delicacy of a tender blossom to the last song which continuously repeats its title Dirait-on, passing the phrase backwards and forward within the choir like a litany.


Nocturne blends the works of three poets in three languages – languorous and deeply satisfying.


The Motets are variously set for a capella chorus or with minimal organ accompaniment. Particularly noteworthy is Ubi caritas , which opens the unadorned intonation of what is surely one of the most seductive of all plainchant melodies, then evolves through a complicated fugal passage only to emerge like a butterfly in a completely new guise. Ave, dulcissima Maria gets a rather similar treatment.


Stephen Layton presides over exemplary performances from the singers of Polyphony and the Britten Sinfonia and the recording engineers make intelligent use of the acoustics of the Temple Church . Not to be missed.


Serena Fenwick