Polyphony / Stephen Layton / Britten Sinfonia

Morten Lauridsen: Nocturnes

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British chamber choir Polyphony has recorded a collection of music by Morten Lauridsen that includes not only his gorgeous but ubiquitous cycle Les chansons des roses, but two less familiar cycles, Mid-Winter Songs, and Nocturnes, and several shorter pieces. The sound of the choir is full, rich, and well blended, and the singers perform with absolute confidence, fully secure with the composer's close harmonies and unresolved dissonances. Their grasp of a full range of articulation, from crisp staccato to velvety legato, is especially striking. Conductor Stephen Layton leads the choir in an unusually nuanced and expressive performance of Les chansons des roses, with great flexibility of tempo, bringing out compositional felicities that can go unnoticed in more conventional readings with straighter tempos. His reading of the cycle Mid-Winter Songs, accompanied by Britten Sinfonia, is notable for its bristling energy and high drama. Three shorter sacred pieces are recorded here for the first time. Two of them are early works, written in 1970, and while they are excellently crafted and fully satisfying on their own terms, they don't have the harmonic richness of his later works. A third piece, Ave, dulcissima Maria (2005), is a virtuoso tour de force for men's voices. Nocturnes (2005), three settings of texts about night, also receive their first recording. Using texts in three languages (in French by Rainer Maria Rilke, Spanish by Pablo Neruda, and English by James Agee), the songs inhabit the same ecstatic harmonic world as Les chansons des roses, and although none is likely to achieve the immediate popular appeal of "Dirait-on," the radiant setting of "Sure on this shining night," may come close. The sound quality is vibrant and clean. This is easily one of the most exciting and beautifully performed collections ofLauridsen's choral music.

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