Mstation Classical Reviews

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Fri, 29 Apr 2005


Lux Aeterna
Music by Morten Lauridsen (b.1943)
The Britten Sinfonia
Conducted by Stephen Layton

Lux Aeterna (1997) [26.33]
	Introitus [6.36]
	In te, Domine, speravi [4.13]
	O nata lux [3.39]
	Veni, Sancte Spiritus [2.20]
	Agnus Dei Š Lux Aeterna [9.33]
Madrigali (1987) Six Ōfire songsÕ on Italian Renaissance poems [19.36]
	OvÕ¸, LassÕ, il bel viso [2,41]
	Quando son pi¯ lontan [4.13]
	Amor, io sento lÕalma [1.48]
	Io piango [3.24]
	Luci serene e chiare [2.44]
	Se per Havervi, oime [4.12]
Ave Maria (1997) [6.38]
Ubi caritas et amor (1999) [6.57]
O magnum mysterium (1994) [6.40]

Recorded in The Temple Church, London on 31 July and 1 August 2003 and in St Jude-on-the-hill, Hampstead, London on 3 April 2004 (Tracks 1-5, Lux Aeterna) Hyperion CDA67449 [66.45]

The notes that accompany this disc of choral music by the American composer Morten Lauridsen describe the music at various times as follows: "...sonorously beautiful and immaculately crafted..." "...Imbued with a pervasive sincerity..." "...true to an inimitable inner singing..." "...preternatural sensitivity to textual nuance..." "...suffused with warmth and consolation..." "sensuous and spare..." and so it goes on. This is the best way of summing up this music, which aims for the popular "spiritual" appeal of Taverner or Paert, mixed with the listener-friendly aspect of Rutter.

Much is made of the melodic beauty that is central to Lauridsen's music, and all the lines are well crafted and, indeed, beautiful. Lauridsen can be seen as the epitome of the post-post-modernist rejection of all things modern. This music is filled with echoes of the past. Lauridsen himself has made much of his immersion in the music of the renaissance, and of plainchant, both of which contribute heavily to his style. There is also much of the sound-word of Faure, and the booklet notes even draw a direct comparison between Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna and Faure's Requiem as being "suffused by warmth and consolation". Bits of this work also sound as if they are about to become Nimrod from Elgar's Enigma Variations but that great peroration never quite comes. Essentially, Lux Aeterna sounds most like film music; particularly the sound track to any of those American "feelgood" films about people, preferably families, overcoming personal tragedy to triumph through their inner strength. The trouble is, the style is generic and fits any of these scenarios without really showing very much of itself. The notes claim that the music is never pastiche, but this somewhat disingenuous as there is undoubtedly a considerable aspect of pastiche in such conscious avoidance of the musical developments of the last 50 or 60 years, to write music redolent of the romantic era more than of the era in which the music was created.

The other works are for unaccompanied chorus, whereas Lux Aeterna is for chorus and orchestra. The six madrigali are undoubtedly more interesting works than Lux Aeterna as they make much greater play with contrast and with rhythmic variety. The performance of Stephen Layton's group Polyphony is as good here as it is anywhere; a confident sound in all dynamics, and with immaculate control over the nuances of shading and movement. Polyphony is not a large group, being 25 singers in these madrigali, but each voice is able to contribute fully. These are the cream of the young professional choral singers of London, and Layton can make them do anything.

The disc concludes with Latin motets from the mid/late 1990s. In Ave Maria Lauridsen employs a lush eight-part texture and Polyphony rise easily to the challenge of the music's complexities. However, the soundscape is essentially that of Lux Aeterna again, and while it is constantly beautiful, it is not terribly memorable and easily moves towards the borders of the saccharine. Ubi caritas draws immediate comparison with the well-known setting of the same words by Durufle, and makes similar use of the plainsong, opening with an unadorned verse of plainsong, which makes for a pleasing variation of texture away from Lauridsen's usual lushness. In the rest of the motet he manipulates the plainsong melody in contrapuntal elaborations. There is more variety of texture and tempo than elsewhere and the result is highly successful. O magnum mysterium was written just before Lux Aeterna and again inhabits those slightly sugary realms that have been already noted. Beautifully sung though...

(c) 2005 Peter Wells

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