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Morten LAURIDSEN (b. 1943)
Madrigali: Six ‘Firesongs’ on Italian Renaissance poems (1986) [20:27]
Les Chansons des Roses (1993) [17:37]
Nocturnes (2005) [14:44]
Anna Rocławska-Musiałcszyk (piano)
Chamber Choir of Stanislaw Moniuszko Academy of Music, Gdansk, Poland/Błażej Połom
rec. 2014/15, venue not stated
STUDIO MTS CD-029 [53:01]

The veteran American composer Morten Lauridsen is an accomplished composer of choral works, both sacred and secular. His work has a lovely singing line, as well as a depth and spirituality, which are easily recognizable but hard to describe. He is widely performed and here we have a Polish choir tackling some of his best-known works. I should straightaway say that they have been thoroughly prepared: the precision of their attack is impressive, as are the unanimity of their phrasing and certainty of their intonation - very necessary, as the soprano lines can go high and the bass ones deep. Their French and Italian sound carefully prepared yet natural, and I dare say the same is true of their Spanish.

On this disc we have first the Madrigali: Six ‘Firesongs’ on Italian Renaissance Poems. They are firesongs because they are about the fire of love. Two of the poems are by Petrarch, the others by lesser writers, some unknown. The work is unified by the use of what Lauridsen calls the fire chord (a B flat minor triad with an added C). The six settings are very varied: the first opens with tremendous energy, the second is much gentler with subtle harmonies, the third is a kind of dance. The climax is in the fourth, with a very dissonant chord. The last two are calmer. This is an impressive cycle.

Les chansons des Roses sets five poems by the German poet Rilke, who also wrote occasionally in French. The first to be written was actually the last in the cycle, Dirait-on, which is set for chorus with piano. The success of this led to the setting of the other poems, which do not require the piano. The poems are intimate, even hermetic, although the symbolism of the rose for the beloved is traditional. Again, the cycle is unified by using the same musical materials throughout. I found this a touching and moving work.

Finally, the Nocturnes is a cycle of three poems about night by poets of different nationalities and languages: Rilke again writing in French, the Chilean Pablo Neruda writing in Spanish and the American James Agee writing in English. The piano is used in the first and third of these. Rilke’s Sa nuit d’Été celebrates a starry night with rich harmonies, Neruda’s Soneto de la Noche is an intimate love poem and James Agee’s Sure on this Shining Night is radiant.

The recording is warm but slightly too resonant, and the words can become blurred. This is the more troubling as there is no booklet and no texts or translations. How many people can immediately put their hands on Rilke’s French poems, or Italian madrigal texts? I would have liked to commend this recording, but this deficiency makes it impossible. Instead I would direct those interested in Lauridsen’s music to two recordings by Polyphony under Stephen Layton on Hyperion: Lux aeterna (CDA67449) contains the Madrigali with other works and Nocturnes (CDA 67580) contains those, Les chansons des Roses and the Robert Graves cycle Mid-Winter Songs. Not only are these also fine performance but they have, as one would expect, useful booklets and full texts with translations into three languages. It is a shame that the Polish sponsors of this otherwise good recording skimped on essential documentation.

Stephen Barber

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