Morten Lauridsen's choral music performed by Polyphony with Stephen Layton, conductor. Works on this disc include Mid-Winter Songs, Les chansons des roses, I will lift up mine eyes, O come, let us sing unto the Lord, Ave, culcissima Maria, and Nocturnes. Texts are from various poets, including Robert Graves, Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda and James Agee.
Morten Lauridsen's choral music is well-rooted in both early music and Renaissance polyphony, but he is not one of the so-called "holy minimalists" whose very sounds are reminiscent of centuries-old music. He is American and approaches the past as a building block; he may use old techniques but his voice is original, lyrical, and easy to take, without ever seeming simple-minded. He writes so the texts can be understood - here he uses words by Robert Graves, Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda and James Agee and throws in some non-secular psalms and a Latin motet, "Ave, dulcissima Maria." This last is a piece of great tranquility scored for male chorus, with a set of finger cymbals played by Lauridsen himself (he plays piano elsewhere on the CD). The group Polyphony, under Stephen Layton, performs all these works with impeccable pitch and diction; the fives poems by Rilke about roses are particularly handsome. He uses vast variations in dynamics almost ochestrally and the effect is marvelous - large crescendos excite and sustained soft singing soothes. There's nothing here that will jar the listener - Lauridsen's dissonances are at the service of the text and are normally quickly resolved. Fans of choral music should know what this composer (born in 1958) is up to - his music is both interesting and sheerly pleasurable. --Robert Levine