Morten Lauridsen is perhaps, the greatest American composer of choral music living today. I still recall the first time I heard "Lux Aeterna" (chorus and orchestra) soon after this important world premiere disc was released; I was blown away, completely and utterly. This is music of such beauty...well it's almost ridiculous that it is so stunning! I still melt with each listen, my spine host to traveling chills without it being the coldest day of December. This is a work that is superior, on a level next to Faure's Requiem, The choral music of Durufle (Durufle's "Messe Cum Jubilo" is also simply too gorgeous to be true, and is my favorite choral work of all time...I have 100 runners-up however!), Brahms, Tallis, Palestrina, Bach etc.. I know that's quite a statement but I personally find this to be fact. 'Lux Aeterna' draws on Latin texts which refer to light (lux), bracketed by excerpts from the Requiem Mass: the familiar "Requiem aeternam" to begin and "Agnus Dei-Lux aeterna" to close. Lux Aeterna was written after the death of Lauridsen's mother, the muse for this lush and heavenly opus.
In discussing the origin of "O Magnum Mysterium," in the early 1990s, Lauridsen cites as his primary inspiration a painting done in 1633, Francisco de Zurbarán's "Still Life With Lemons, Oranges and a Rose." The painting projects an aura of mystery, powerful in its unadorned simplicity, its mystical quality creating an atmosphere of deep contemplation. Its effect is immediate, transcendent and overpowering. Before it one tends to speak in hushed tones, if at all.
"Les Chansons des Roses" and "Mid-Winter Songs" bring similarly rewarding glorious choral writing to secular texts, penned by Rainer Maria Rilke and Robert Graves respectively. Lauridsen's mastery of colorful scoring shines in his orchestral version of "Mid-Winter Songs", an evocative tapestry of sound. (I recall telling the composer Arnold Rosner that to my ears he in fact could have penned "Mid-Winter Songs". He too was moved and impressed enough with Lauridsen's music that he had planned to contact the composer to chat. Whether or not that happened I actually never found out..)
"Ave Maria" is one of a series of a cappella motets on well-known Latin texts that Lauridsen dedicated and wrote for director Paul Salamunovich, on his 70th birthday.
The Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Sinfonia Orchestra make these works soar, and I still find this to be simply the best recording of Lux Aeterna, Mid-Winter Songs, or O Magnum Mysterium. I really never care about these things, however, it's worth noting that this album earned a grammy nomination in 1999 for "best choral album" (the disc itself was out in 1998). These are world-premiere recordings. Enjoy!!
Lux Æterna (1997) (World Premiere)
1. Introitus 11. Ave Maria (1997) (World Premiere)
2. In Te, Domine, Speravi Mid-Winter Songs (1980) (World Premiere, orch.)
3. O Nata Lux
4. Vene, Sancte Spiritus 12. Lament for Pasiphae
5. Agnus Dei - Lux Æterna 13. Like Snow
14. She Tells Her Love While Half Asleep
Les Chansons Des Roses (1993) 15. Mid-Winter Waking
16. Intercession In Late October
6. En Une Seule Fleur
7. Contre Qui, Rose 17. O Magnum Mysterium (1994)
8. De Ton Reve Trop Plein
9. La Rose Complete
10. Dirait-on (Morten Lauridsen, piano)