Friday, December 28, 2007

A North American Collaboration

Choral Works of Morten Lauridsen
Elora Festival Singers, Noel Edison
Naxos, 8.559304


Here's another delightful recording from our friends at Naxos.

I discovered Morten Lauridsen via a recording by Stephen Layton and Polyphony from 2004 on Hyperion (
CDA67449). I was immediately nearly heartbroken by the simple beauty of his Ave Maria; so quietly powerful was this music that I found myself seeking the disc out for mood control. I've been on a mission since then to acquire more of his oeuvre. The 64-year-old Lauridsen is professor of composition at USC, and has written several secular and sacred settings for mixed choir. Polyphony followed that initial release with a second in 2006, also on Hyperion (CDA67580), the two discs covering most of his output.

Lauridsen's writing, especially in the classic sacred settings, is wonderfully simple and direct, employing quite spare and deliberate part-writing and a limited but very engaging harmonic palette. Having made this much acquaintance, I feel I could identify him readily by this harmonic language, which is firmly tonal but gently modern.

Now comes a recent release on Naxos of an excellent cross section of Lauridsen's work, sung by a Canadian group, the Elora Festival Singers. I was thrilled by their recording a few years back of Vaughan Williams's Requiem (Naxos 8.554826), and they have released discs of Arvo Part's Berliner Messe and music of Healy Willan, among others.

But this recording of Lauridsen will stand on its own. The choir has a very warm and blended sound, and Noel Edison gives us very feeling interpretations of these works. I'm especially taken with Les Chansons des Roses, a four-movement work that concludes with an achingly beautiful, piano-supported monody that reminds me of Duruflé and his penchant for plainsong.

Having been introduced to all these works by other groups, I can say that this Naxos release equals or betters any other versions I've heard. Add in Naxos's bargain price, and you have a really attractive package.

Highly recommended.

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