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Hyperion Records

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Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead? (1905) by Howard Pyle (1853-1911)
American Illustrators Gallery, NYC / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67449
Recording details: August 2003
Temple Church, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: March 2005
Total duration: 19 minutes 18 seconds

'exquisitely sung by Polyphony with strong support from the Britten Sinfonia under Stephen Layton' (The Observer)

'The music has freshness and an affecting emotional pull to it that explains its popularity with singers and audiences across the pond. Stephen Layton's Polyphony, whose recent recordings of Pärt, Tavener and others have been revelations of choral singing, brings a comparable firmness, tonal opulence and refinement to this new repertoire, which will undoubtedly gain new admirers as a result' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Conventional choral wisdom suggests that the American Morten Lauridsen is a one-work wonder and certainly O magnum mysterium is wonderful, with vocal lines that arch out like fan vaulting. With this new recording Stephen Layton and Hyperion are clearly out to prove that Lauridsen's gifts are not just for Christmas but for all seasons too … now the jury is back: the choir and Layton have acquitted Morten Lauridsen. Here's a three-, perhaps four-work wonder!' (International Record Review)

'Layton and company have here produced the finest I've heard among several excellent collections of Lauridsen's work. None are quite as exquisitely nuanced or sung with such glowing vocal sheen as this. Clear and shimmering sound, plus Hyperion's usual complete and user-friendly booklet, make it all the more attractive. No committed choral fan or singer will ever regret letting Lauridsen into his life' (American Record Guide)

'Stephen Layton's feel for the inner line and structure melts the heart, as does the impeccable, unforced singing of Polyphony. Their music-making remains in heavenly realms throughout the virtuoso Madrigali: pure choral gold' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Every one of the works on this mesmerising Hyperion release is deliciously lyrical and harmonically sumptuous, but spiced with delicate dissonances that are Lauridsen's signature … Every performance here is delivered with liquid perfection' (The Scotsman)

'It's not often I have to brush away the tears when I'm reviewing a recording, but I will happily confess that on this occasion Lauridsen got me again and again. I can't give this disc a higher recommendation than that. Run out and buy it as soon as you can' (Fanfare, USA)

'Above all, these performances by Stephen Layton's Polyphony are breathtakingly beautiful, powerfully expressive without trace of forced sentimentality. Hyperion's Disc of the Month for March should become one of the year's classical hits' (Music Week)

'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' (St Louis-Post Dispatch)

'This Hyperion release is superb and the disc is a must. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have' (Classical Music Web)

'This is compelling and challenging music that deserves wider performance. The world-class ensemble Polyphony has made many first-rate recordings, and this is another—and it will be an immediate acquisition for this composer's growing legions of fans … if you love choral music, Lauridsen's work is required listening' (ClassicsToday.com)

'The sound is very clean, very focused and detailed, and has remarkable sound-stage depth. Even more so as an SACD … The bottom line is, if you aren't familiar with Lux Aeterna, your life is the poorer for it. You do need a recording of it' (Stereophile)

Madrigali. Six 'Fire Songs' on Italian Renaissance Poems
composer
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In his choral cycle Madrigali: Six ‘Fire Songs’ on Italian Renaissance Poems for a cappella chorus (1987), Lauridsen expropriates techniques favoured by sixteenth-century Italian madrigalists to paint a very different emotional landscape from that of Lux aeterna. Instead of light, hope and serenity, the Madrigali are haunted by darkness, yearning and, at times, profound despair. As in Lux aeterna, Lauridsen employs the technique of using a single chord – a sonority that he has dubbed the ‘fire-chord’ (a B flat minor triad with a scorching added C) – to unify the entire score and symbolize its fevered mood. As the composer has testified: ‘The choral masterpieces of the High Renaissance, especially the madrigals of Monteverdi and Gesualdo, provided the inspiration for my own Madrigali. Italian love poems of that era have constituted a rich lyric source for many composers, and while reading them I became increasingly intrigued by the symbolic image of flames, burning and fire that recurred within this context.’

Derived from what the composer has identified as the ‘single, primal sonority’ of the ‘fire-chord’, the Madrigali relate an inner narrative of evanescent hope and erotic obsession. Some of the techniques that the composer has assimilated from Monteverdi and his contemporaries include a pervasive modality, bold harmonic juxtapositions, word-painting through melodic and harmonic means; intricate counterpoint, and Augenmusik – literally ‘eye-music’. (Used extensively by Marenzio and other sixteenth-century madrigal composers, the practice of Augenmusik exploits the purely graphic appearance of the score to convey a musical meaning to the performer’s gaze.) Cast as an extended Bogenform (‘arch form’), the Madrigali are unified through the use of recurring thematic and harmonic material, especially between movements one and six, and two and five. The capstone and climax of the cycle is reached in the fourth madrigal, Io piango (‘I weep’), a lament that reaches a shattering climax on a complex chord of harrowing dissonance. The final movement, Se per havervi, oime (‘If, alas, when I gave you my heart’), provides the Madrigali with an ambivalent conclusion; after the emotional immolation so movingly portrayed in the preceding madrigals, Lauridsen sagely eschews a facile resolution by ending the cycle on a subdued but insistently unresolved dissonance. As the composer once remarked, ‘these settings are passionate, earthy, dramatic – red wine music’.

from notes by Byron Adams © 2005

Other albums featuring this work
'Lauridsen: Lux aeterna' (SACDA67449)
Lauridsen: Lux aeterna
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