Lauridsen: Lux aeterna (CD Review - The St Louis Post, 2005)

"Lux aeterna" illuminates hope with choral music

In the course of my work, I receive compact discs by the dozen each week, more than I can listen to, let alone review. I try to give as many of them as I can a hearing; once in a while, I'll listen to something particularly well done a second or even a third time. But recently, quite by chance, I found a recording that I can barely put down: "Lux aeterna," a crystalline recording of choral works by the American composer Morten Lauridsen (b. 1945).

As luck (or something) would have it, I picked it up from the "to listen to" stack shortly after learning that a friend and former colleague in Chicago, tenor Richard "Bud" Markley, had been found murdered in his apartment. This music spoke to me clearly in an hour of need, but now that the shock has worn off, I keep returning to it again and again.

Like Faure's Requiem or Brahms' "A German Requiem," this is music that speaks warmly to the grieving, taking the mourner from the shadows of sorrow into a realization of eternal light. For those of us who need great music to live and feel more fully, these works speak clearly to the soul and illuminate our greater hope.

"Lux aeterna" (1997), in five movements ("Introitus," "In te, Domine, speravi," "O nata lux," "Veni, Sancte Spiritus" and the stunning "Agnus Dei - Lux aeterna" as a conclusion) for chorus and orchestra, takes familiar phrases from the Requiem Mass and combines them with lines from psalms and Latin hymns. It begins with a bare Goreckian rumble and builds through minor-key severity into glorious, radiant openness, with alleluias that seem to split the heavens with their rapturous joy.

The disc also has, in a very different vein, " Madrigali: Six 'Fire Songs' on Italian Renaissance Poems," and then reverts to the sacred with gorgeous settings of "Ave Maria" (this one ought to give Franz Biber's setting a run for its money), "Ubi caritas et amor" (built on the familiar plainchant) and a luminescent setting of "O magnum mysterium." Lauridsen's idiom uses everything from chant forms to Renaissance-style polyphony and hints of John Taverner, all combined with his own unique compositional voice. This is some of the most grateful writing for the human voice - and some of the most deeply spiritual composition - that I have heard from a contemporary composer.

It all receives a flawless, perfectly balanced performance from the British choral group Polyphony, directed by the gifted Stephen Layton, and ably assisted by the Britten Sinfonia. If you love choral music, if you appreciate compositions that lift you from the mundane, you should not miss "Lux aeterna."

Sarah Bryan Miller 

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