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Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, April 2010

O nata lux (O light born of light) is certainly beguiling, with a smoothly contoured vocal line that conceals moments of genuine repose… the four Rilke settings would offer more of a challenge. There is some nimble singing here…O magnum mysterium, the piece that had attracted me to Morten Lauridsen in the first place… is rather lovely…Lauridsen fans will probably flock to buy this disc…



Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, March 2010

If one is looking for an inexpensive introduction to the extraordinarily beautiful choral music of Morten Lauridsen, this Naxos release is a good place to start. The selections are well chosen to present the broad range of the composer’s choral work, from the ethereal to the libidinous. Included are three of Lauridsen’s seven song cycles, plus two of his best-known individual pieces. The chorus is fine, with good tone, diction, and blend; the conducting, indulgent, but generally sensitive to the needs of the text and the music. The sound is open and supportive of the chorus without being overly reverberant.

The individual works first: both “O nata lux” (from the Lux aeterna) and O magnum mysterium are among the composer’s most-performed works. The latter Lauridsen wrote for the Los Angeles Master Chorale at the beginning of a six-year composer residency. The Chorale’s director at that time, Paul Salamunovich, declared it a 21st-century masterpiece on the order of the setting by Tomas Luis de Victoria. It is a bold comparison with which few apparently disagree. Lauridsen’s works are clearly contemporary, but both of these pieces have the indescribable sense of wonder and perpetuity of a Renaissance motet. Choir and director communicate that spirit admirably.

The composer, an avid reader of poetry, is known for the quality of the texts he sets: modern masters such as Robert Graves and Howard Moss, as well as great writers such as Lorca and Rilke. His discovery of Rilke’s late-life, French poems led to one of his most exquisite creations, Les chansons des roses. With refined delivery and fine diction, the choir captures well the elegant formality of the settings. However, the last movement, the famous “Dirait-an,” brought me up short. More than anything else Lauridsen has written, this piece requires care to avoid an inapt sentimentality. Other recordings, most supervised by the composer, have retained the slight detachment necessary. Edison and his choir cross the line, milking it too much for the prettiness. Others may find it attractive, but I was put off.

It turns out to be one of a few disappointments. One of Lauridsen’s most challenging works—for the choir and to some degree for the listener—is his Madrigali: Six Fire-Songs on Italian Renaissance Poems. Sharp dissonances, derived from a single dissonant chord (BI Minor with overlaid C), underline the flame-imaged pain of unrequited love. The work is a wrenching experience, especially the heart-breaking “Io piango,” when the ensemble sings with passion and perfect tuning. Alas, the Elora Festival Choir does not always capture the fire or achieve perfect accuracy. Then, the Robert Graves settings, Mid-Winter Songs, are presented here in the revised (1990) five-movement version, but with the now-optional piano accompaniment. Once one has heard the Copland and Barber-flavored orchestral version, it is hard to go back. No pianist, not even one as fine as Leslie De’Ath, can come close to the power of those opening brass chords or the sweep of the rapturous string writing. The work seems diminished, no matter the exquisite images of love, death, and anticipated rebirth, or that the chorus sings it so agreeably…



Stephen Eddins
Allmusic.com, January 2010

Based on a handful of skillfully crafted, warmly accessible choral works, Morten Lauridsen has achieved a degree of fame and attracted a devoted following rare for a contemporary American composer. His published output is small, consisting of less than two dozen complete works (although the number grows somewhat when individual movements of larger works are counted, and various arrangements of the same piece). He is best-known for “Dirait-on,” from his choral cycle, Les Chansons des Roses, settings of poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke. Lauridsen’s French text setting is execrably unidiomatic, but it hardly matters because the music is so ravishingly lyrical and memorably melodic that it has nearly acquired the kind of iconic timelessness of a piece like Barber’s Adagio. Even on first hearing, it sounds familiar, as if it had always existed, and it lodges itself so firmly in the ear and mind that for many listeners, it’s difficult to imagine a point at which it was not a part of their consciousness. The a cappella motet O magnum mysterium may not be as hummable, but for many in the community of choral enthusiasts, it has almost the same status. While he doesn’t repeat himself, Lauridsen has a distinctive sound, and his music is recognizable because of his idiosyncratic use of certain characteristic intervals and melodic figures, and his adroit manipulation of unresolved dissonances. This disc, by the Ontario-based Elora Festival Singers, led by Noel Edison, includes three of Lauridsen’s cycles, Madrigali, Les Chansons des Roses, and Mid-Winter Songs, as well as O magnum mysterium and O nata lux, from Lux aeterna. The performances are solid, with secure intonation, tight ensemble, and a warm sound. They don’t have the touch of transcendence, though, that the very best performers, such as Stephen Layton leading Polyphony, bring to this repertoire—a tonal luminosity and fluidity, with a drive toward the ecstatic—that can give it an overwhelming impact. The singers always sound a little too safe, for instance, in the opening of Mid-Winter Songs, where the music calls for a punch that’s almost surprising in its vehemence. Naxos’ sound is clean and warm…



Bill
The WSCL Blog, December 2009

…the Christmas motets “O nata lux” and “O magnum mysterium” are so good and have become so popular that it’s hard not to include it. Disc also features “Madrigali” on Italian Renaissance Poems, “Les Chansons Roses” by Rainer Maria Rilke, and “Mid-Winter Songs” on poems by Robert Graves.




David Vernier
ClassicsToday.com, November 2009

If I were Morten Lauridsen and my work was in the artistic care of a choir like the Elora Festival Singers I would feel that my creative vision was in exceptionally good hands. Although O nata lux (a movement from the larger work Lux aeterna) and O magnum mysterium have been recorded numerous times, they never have been done better—or more movingly—than here. And notably, the timing of the latter, at just short of six minutes, effectively demonstrates that (unlike the comparatively languorous performances by Polyphony and the Chamber Choir of Europe, for example) in this work slower is not better!

While the abovementioned pieces embody Lauridsen’s most familiar harmony/texture-based style, he reveals an entirely different musical character in the rhythmically and harmonically challenging Madrigali, six songs set to Italian Renaissance poems. Here the choir takes on the delicate, tricky-to-balance textures and wide-ranging dramatic declamations, perfectly capturing the varied moods and moments of these emotion-laden texts. Perhaps most compelling is Quando son più lontan, which in its expressive character and harmonic aspects is the most reminiscent of the love-and-pain madrigal style of Marenzio, Gesualdo, and Monteverdi. Amor, lo sento l’alma is as impressive for its rhythmic audacity as the following Io piango is for its appropriately biting harmonies. In the set’s final song, Se per havervi, oimè (If, alas, because I have given you my heart…), Lauridsen’s signature harmonies make return appearances while expanding into more distant, less predictable regions; but it’s hard not to be distracted—and enchanted—by a repeated little curling five-note melodic figure. More than an ornamental device, it’s like a musical gesture of the lover’s pleading while also representing the flame of passion that consumes him.

The first of the Chansons des Roses (set to Rainer Maria Rilke poems) is the familiar chordal style of Lauridsen’s O nata lux and O magnum mysterium, just sung at a much faster tempo—and in French. And in fact, the following numbers in the set are all in the same harmonic/melodic realm, concluding with perhaps Lauridsen’s most-performed piece, Dirait-on, which includes a piano accompaniment—as do the five Mid-Winter Songs (to poems by Robert Graves).

As with the Madrigali, this last cycle—from 1983—is among Lauridsen’s more technically demanding choral works, and again, although you can find several other recordings of it from very fine choirs, none surpasses this virtuosic performance, admirably partnered by pianist Leslie De’Ath. The sound, from the choir’s home venue in Elora, Ontario, is first-rate. Informative program notes, full texts and translations are included—and happily, so is publisher information for all the music. Highly recommended.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2009

Morten Lauridsen belongs to that fast growing group of American composers who are turning the clock back to reconnect with music of the 19th century. It will delight performers and audiences who have baulked at the current trends in music, Lauridsen going right back to choral music of the Renaissance for much of his inspiration. The result is a timeless quality and of a comforting sacred spirituality, that feeling extending even when working with the secular texts of his five Madrigali where he uses Italian Renaissance poems. Much relies on the long flowing lines of high sopranos, though the fifth madrigal, Luci serene e chiare (Serene and cloudless eyes) introduces a more complex rhythmic structure. My own delights lean towards his more active music, such of the five sections of Les Chansons des Roses, the opening, En une seule fleur (In a single flower) being particularly charming. The five Mid-Winter Poems are to words by Robert Graves and are mostly about a love that is not always happy, the use of the piano as a solo instrument commenting on the songs as well as acting in accompaniment. The disc ends with words for Christmas in the haunting O magnum mysterium. The Elora Festival Singers from Canada are a class act and here obviously enjoying the music, keeping rock steady pitch in some very slow moving music. Just a few passing moments where interplay between voices becomes a little blurred, but I love their overall tonal quality. The sound too is excellent, and even if the church acoustic is not kind to the piano, is casts a nice warm quality over the voices.






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10:38:02 AM, 19 April 2014
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