Dale Warland Singers

Lux Aurumque

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This gorgeous disc was the last recorded by the Dale Warland Singers, the large Minnesota choir that represented the modern apex of American achievement in the choral field, and it does seem to be bathed in the "golden light" of its title. Essentially a cappella, there is a subtle use of a single trumpet in Dominick Argento's To God "In memoriam M.B." The album's title comes from a work by American composer Eric Whitacre, with a text that, curiously, was translated from English into Latin before being set. Musically it's of a piece with several of Whitacre's other popular a cappella compositions, with close harmonies that seamlessly add in and discard dissonant elements to produce an unusually physical experience of waves of tension and release. It fits well with the older music on the album, which has a meditative mood engendered by calm but harmonically dense textures. Nobody else can do this kind of texture with quite the combination of lushness and control that the Dale Warland Singers bring to the task, but, as usual with the group, there are other things to hold the listener's interest besides sheer choral virtuosity. The program is exceptionally expertly assembled. Composers of various countries are represented, but the bulk of the music is American or Russian -- and the notes (check those for Howard Hanson's superb and little-known A Prayer of the Middle Ages), taken together, suggest a parallel between the experiences of composers working under the strictures of modernist orthodoxy on the one hand and Socialist theory on the other. Other strains, religious and memorial, run through the program as well, and several pieces -- John Rutter's Hymn to the Creator of Light and Alfred Schnittke's "Complete This Work" (not an aleatoric idea but part of a prayer) from the Choral Concerto -- are among the most convincing and powerful offered by their respective composers. Links are drawn between the neo-tonal American choral practice of Morten Lauridsen (in the rightfully globally popular O magnum mysterium) and Eastern European holy minimalism (as manifested in the O sacrum convivium of Lithuanian composer Vytautas Miskinis). The disc is likely to contain a good deal of music that even choral enthusiasts do not know, and to top it all off, the annotations for each piece are both trenchant and wise. The Dale Warland Singers went out on a profound note with this recording, and their passing from the scene is cause for sadness.

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