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Morten LAURIDSEN (b. 1943)
Lux Aeterna (1997) [26.33]
Madrigali: Six Fire Songs on Italian Renaissance Poems (1987) [19.36]
Ave Maria (1997) [6í38]
Ubi caritas et amor (1999) [6.57]
O Magnum Mysterium (1994) [6.40]
Polyphony; Britten Sinfonia/Stephen Layton
Recorded the Temple Church, London on 31st July and 1st August 2003. DDD
HYPERION CDA67449 [66.45]

In April 2002 I wrote the following about a Rubeda Canis Musica Release RCM 19705: "This disc is my choral disc of the year! I cannot see how it could be bettered, both musically, performance and recording-wise. Although it is not available as yet in the UK, I urge you to get it from the U.S. (Amazon.com can supply it by return). You will not regret the investment."

Unfortunately, that original disc is still not available in the U.K., although it can be still purchased through U.S. internet sites. At long last, we have a British release of Lauridsenís music, and it is a stunner. It was recorded by Polyphony, in the composerís presence in 2003. Whilst there are small differences between the two discs, I would be very happy with either. As it is I have both so I am doubly happy.

Lauridsenís choral writing is a wonderful experience to hear. The Hyperion recording is a little clearer than the American release, and the Britten Sinfonia plays with a little bit more feeling than the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

Lux Aeterna, written in 1997, and premiered on the RCD disc, is performed on the Hyperion disc with identical total timing, but with different timings for some of the five movements. The overall effect on this listener is of no consequence. I love both interpretations. It was inspired by the Brahms Requiem, although there is little similarity between the two pieces, except for the sense of dedication and the use of slow, deep introduction à la Brahms. There are five movements: Introitus, In Te Domine Speravi, O Nata Lux, Veni Sanctus Spiritus, and Agnus Dei - Lux Aeterna. The devotional character is well to the front, with soaring choral lines which make the hairs on the back of your neck rise up in unison.

The Six Madrigali is not included on the American disc, but can be heard in a version sung by the Nordic Chamber Choir conducted by Nicol Matt (Bayer BR 100 305). In this case, the Hyperion issue is superior. Matt is consistently slower. It is a distinct improvement to have the madrigals moving at a slightly faster pace.

When it comes to the Ave Maria, the Los Angeles Master Chorale is a little slower, but the standard of choral singing is the same Ė superb.

Ubi caritas et amor, also absent from the RCM disc, is a short choral piece written after the Los Angeles disc was recorded. It is in a similar vein to the other pieces although there is an element of plainchant present; a new feature of Lauridsenís writing.

Finally we come to O Magnum Mysterium, premiered in 1994 by Salamunovich and his choir. This superb work is worth the whole price of the disc. It rounds off an absolutely enthralling disc which I can't imagine any music lover not being moved by. The Hyperion performance drags ever so slightly over its American rival, but the difference is only very slight. Stephen Layton takes over a minute longer which doesnít sound much, but in a six minute work the difference is significant. The Los Angeles performance flows better, but again, the difference is slight.

Polyphony is a much smaller choir than the Los Angeles Master Chorale which has both benefits and shortfalls. Diction is clearer and choral discipline sounds to be a little better, but when going at full tilt, the larger American choir has the edge in terms of power and body of tone. It is a good job I donít have to recommend one over the other.

This Hyperion release is superb and the disc is a must. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

John Phillips


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