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CLASSICAL  August 2000

CLASSICAL August 2000

Subject:

Morten Lauridsen Choral Works

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 28 Aug 2000 09:17:57 -0500

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   Morten Lauridsen
     Choral Works

* Lux aeterna (1997)
* Les Chansons des Roses (1993)^
* Ave Maria (1997)
* Mid-Winter Songs (1980; orchestral version, 1990)
* O magnum mysterium (1994)

Morten Lauridsen (piano)^,
Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia Orchestra/Paul Salamunovich
RCM 19705 Total time: 76:23

Summary for the Busy Executive:  I have doubts about the music.  No doubts
at all about the choir - world-class.

Thanks to conductors like Roger Wagner and Howard Swan, Los Angeles has
one of the country's strongest choral traditions.  The movies, of course,
didn't hurt, which you might think about the next time you hear celestial
voices in the newest John Williams score.

Paul Salamunovich came up with Roger Wagner, founder of the Los Angeles
Master Chorale.  Technically, the group falls under the category of
"community chorus," but, then again, Los Angeles is no ordinary community.
Like New York, it attracts performers from all over the country like honey
draws ants, and one legacy of its strong show-biz presence is that a career
in the arts appears almost middle-class.  The quantity and quality of
potential choristers seems much higher than in, say, Sandusky.  The Chorale
has also been superbly trained - great raw material fashioned into a
remarkable instrument.

First in the list of the Chorale's characteristics stands a fabulous,
rich sound - a tribute both to the quality of its voices and the blend
Salamunovich achieves.  The intonation - keeping chords in tune - is
gorgeous in itself.  My only gripe concerns the group's diction.  You can't
really follow the text most of the time without the words printed in front
of you.  Normally, this sort of textual mush also brings with it or leads
to slack rhythm, but the Chorale more often than not comes across as
rhythmically incisive.  You just have trouble making out the words.

Lauridsen has earned a name for himself as a choral composer.  The works
not only sound well, but they're very well written.  Lauridsen studied on
the West Coast with such greats as Ingolf Dahl and Halsey Stevens.  His
idiom stems from American neo-classicism - the composers just mentioned, as
well as, here and there, some Copland.  Unlike them, however, he manages to
produce a lush sound, and this might lead him into trouble as his career
progresses.

The program here has been chosen a bit unfortunately.  Each work in
itself is sensuously beautiful, but the more recent works - the Lux
aeterna, Les Chansons, Ave Maria, and O magnum mysterium - sound pretty
much alike, down to the use of the same basic ideas from work to work.  One
also misses rhythmic and textural variety.  A streamlined update of Elgar's
"Nimrod" variation figures prominently in several pieces.  It leads to the
impression that Lauridsen knows some beautiful moves, but that he's got a
very small bag of moves.  However, this impression of sameness might have
been mitigated with a different program.  I prefer the three large works -
Lux, Chansons, and Mid-Winter Songs - to the shorter pieces.  Lux aeterna
sets well-known sacred texts that mention light.  For example, the first
movement, "Introitus," uses the opening movement to the requiem mass with
its reference to "lux perpetua luceat eis." Lauridsen uses the Elgar
"Nimrod" idiom here, but God, as Mies van der Rohe said, lies in the
details.  The craft of the thing is stupendous, reminding me (and others)
of the counterpoint of the Brahms Deutsches Requiem.  You might also hear
similarities to Durufle's requiem, since the lines, mainly modal, share a
family look with Gregorian chant.  Les Chansons des Roses collect French
poems by the German poet Rilke which mention roses.  There must be at least
a hundred, since the rose is one of Rilke's most heavily-used symbols -
that and angels.  Again, when Lauridsen needs a climax, he seems to want
to dip into "Nimrod" yet once more.  Nevertheless, the work does show a
greater variety of idiom than Lux, even though Chansons is based on a
rather small set of motives.  The Mid-Winter Songs set lyrics by Robert
Graves which mention winter.  The earliest work on the program, it also
ranges the most widely.  As an interesting side observation, the Copland
of Appalachian Spring makes a couple of appearances.

The overall impression the program gives is that as Lauridsen grows older,
the music becomes more restrictive, narrower.  He seems dangerously close
to having become a one-trick pony, although I emphasize that I don't know
a lot of his work.

In any case, these performances by the Los Angeles Master Chorale must
give him much joy.  Rarely will you hear a choral sound so sumptuous.  My
one minor complaint concerns the recorded sound itself - so echo-y that it
sounds like the product of the engineer's mixing board.  It comes across as
hokey or at least as quite unnecessary.  It sounds as if they recorded in
the Temple of Doom.

Steve Schwartz

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