For Christmas George gave me a new recording of choral works by the American composer Morten Lauridsen by the British group Polyphony, conducted by Stephen Layton. The new CD, called Nocturnes, has mostly secular works, but includes two early sacred anthems, plus a recent sacred work for men’s voices (“Ave, dulcissima Maria”) commissioned by the Harvard Glee Club. The CD opens with two Lauridsen “standards”, the Mid-Winter Songs and Les chansons des roses. The major new work is Nocturnes, three settings of poems by Rilke, Neruda, and a breathtaking setting of James Agee’s “Sure on This Shining Night” (most famously set by Samuel Barber). The works are all in Lauridsen’s signature style, close harmonies, tuneful, sensuous. This is contemporary music for people who don’t like contemporary music. Apparently Lauridsen’s music has become very popular in Britain–it has the best characteristics of John Rutter’s music–easy to listen to and rewarding to perform–but isn’t so saccharine.
Polyphony is one of the best choral ensembles in Britain. This Hyperion disc (not yet released in the U.S., but scheduled for sometime in February 2007) follows up on an earlier disc released by Polyphony that included Lauridsen’s “greatest hits”, Lux Aeterna and O Magnum Mysterium, among others.
I highly recommend the new disc.