Morten Lauridsen – Nocturnes

0 of 5 stars

Mid-Winter Songs
Les chansons des roses
I will lift up mine eyes
O come, let us sing unto the Lord
Ave, dulcissima Maria

Britten Sinfonia [Mid-Winter Songs]
Andrew Lumdsen (organ)
Morten Lauridsen (piano/finger cymbals)
Stephen Layton

Recorded on 3 & 4 January 2006 in The Temple Church, London; and 3 April 2006 in St Jude-on-the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London [Mid-Winter Songs]

Reviewed by: David Wordsworth

Reviewed: February 2007
Duration: 65 minutes

The Lauridsen Effect’ has long been in evidence in the United States where there can be scarcely any choir that has never sung his music. Morten Lauridsen (born 1943 in Colfax, Washington) is often described as an ‘American John Rutter’ – but this is just lazy commentary and does neither composer any favours. The only connection between the two is the genuine craftsmanship that underpins their natural-sounding music – and their extraordinary popularity which many are sniffy about without due cause.

Lauridsen may not on first hearing seem to break any musical boundaries, but repeated listening and a close look at the notes on the page reveal much more. It is no surprise to learn of the composer’s devotion to music of both the Medieval and Renaissance periods; his command of the (at times) very complicated polyphonic textures is second-to-none as is the creation of the seemingly never-ending melodic lines.

By far the most successful work on this disc is the cycle “Les chansons des roses” (1993), which sets some of Rilke’s French-language poetry – if this isn’t a masterpiece of late-twentieth-century choral-writing I don’t know what is! From a choir as good as Polyphony (and wow, is it good in this piece!) everything falls perfectly into place – fervent, passionate singing of fervent, passionate music, superb diction, perfectly judged climaxes and a range of colours that stands as an example of how choral music should be sung!

I found slightly less in “Mid-Winter Songs” (1983), setting poetry by Robert Graves, with its curious hints at English madrigalists and through them Tippett, though it was interesting to hear two relatively early anthems, “I will lift up mine eyes” and “O come, let us sing unto the Lord”, both from 1970. The composer himself can be heard on finger-cymbals (no less!) in the delectable, very French-sounding “Ave, dulcissima Maria” for male voices and he provides sonorous piano accompaniments for the most recent choral cycle, “Nocturnes” (2005). Here Lauridsen rises to the challenge of setting ‘night poems’ in German (Rainer Maria Rilke), Spanish (Pablo Neruda) and English (James Agee). The setting that stands out is the middle one for unaccompanied choir, perhaps the most beautiful words that Neruda ever wrote ‘Soneto de la noche’. The cycle (and the CD) ends with ‘Sure on this shining night’ – an indication of the quality of Lauridsen’s version is surely that I was able to put the ‘other’ setting, by Samuel Barber, to the back of my mind.

Enthusiastically recommended to all lovers of great choral singing and great choral music. Texts are included in the booklet.

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