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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67580
Recording details: January 2006
Temple Church, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: January 2007
Total duration: 17 minutes 10 seconds

'Lauridsen's Mid-Winter Songs unfolds as an astutely constructed choral symphony, with bouncy asymmetrical rhythms and lusty choral writing leading to a meditative fadeout. Les chanson des roses is a polyphonic delight that strategically delays the entry of the piano until the very end. Lively, confident performances' (Choir & Organ)

'What more can one say of the singing other than that it is Polyphony? This ensemble—surely one of the best small choirs now before the public—invests everything it sings with insight, crisp ensemble and tonal warmth' (The Daily Telegraph)

'This is a spectacular cycle, graced by some sensational singing' (International Record Review)

'This second, secular anthology is, if anything finer than its predecessor, elevated by the heavenly work of all concerned with its making, and the compelling eloquence of Lauridsen's sublime music … Polyphony’s love for words and music register with unwavering conviction … Stephen Layton's grasp of the polished idiom and his innate musicianship crown this essential release, which under his direction speaks directly to the heart' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Stephen Layton's splendiferous disc—the second of Lauridsen's music by these performers—should be on the shelf of each and every choral-music aficionado' (Fanfare, USA)

'This recording is a fine example of Polyphony's exquisite range and Stephen Layton's still in maintaining the balance between voices and ensemble' (HMV Choice)

'A disc that is filled with lovely music. Performances are excellent. Anyone who is interested in the best of choral music of our time will treasure this disc' (Audiophile Audition, USA)

'This is a superb issue, with the engineers capturing the full sonority of the choir, orchestra and soloists to perfection and with diction being as clear as crystal throughout' (MusicWeb International)

'This is celestial and spine-tingling stuff. Contemporary choral music really doesn't come any better than this' (Daily Express)

'There could be few choirs better equipped than Polyphony to bring his music to life, with their pure sound and lively musicianship … the recent Ave, dulcissima Maria is for a capella male chorus and searingly beautiful. The final Nocturnes is a triptych of settings of Rilke, Pablo Neruda and James Agee … all three brimful of the exquisite beauty that is Lauridsen's special possession' (Manchester Evening News)

'This is great stuff, and it's given its best imaginable realization by Stephen Layton and his crack vocal ensemble Polyphony … the sound, recorded in two different London churches in 2006, has a pleasing resonance that preserves the essential detail among the voices while offering proper balance with the instruments. For choral—and especially Lauridsen—fans, neglecting this disc is not an option' (ClassicsToday.com)

'It is no surprise to learn of the composer’s devotion to music of both the Medieval and Renaissance periods; his command of the (at times) very complicated polyphonic textures is second-to-none as is the creation of the seemingly never-ending melodic lines … if this isn't a masterpiece of late-twentieth-century choral-writing I don't know what is! From a choir as good as Polyphony (and wow, is it good in this piece!) everything falls perfectly into place—fervent, passionate singing of fervent, passionate music, superb diction, perfectly judged climaxes and a range of colours that stands as an example of how choral music should be sung!' (ClassicalSource.com)

'I hold these truths to be self-evident: 1) Rainer Maria Rilke was a genius. 2) Morten Lauridsen is a genius. 3) Lauridsen’s a cappella setting of Rilke’s Contre qui, rose is one of the most singularly beautiful pieces of vocal music in the history of Western Civilization. 4) Polyphony’s new Hyperion recording of Contre qui, rose is a Record To Die For. (The rest of the disc isn’t too shabby, either' (Stereophile)

'Morten Lauridsen (b1943 is at present considered to be the brightest star in the American choral firmament and rightly so. He is a perfectionist who commands an outstanding technique, and is able to create elegantly-finished works of art that radiate with the glow of what is truly right and inevitable. The composer's craftsmanship further leads to an amazing balance between the contemporary and the timeless. Doubtless this disc also attests to Lauridsen's superb ability to write for choral voices while creating those atmospheric sounds which bring a feeling of inner peace to even the most unwilling ear. In this recording, the composer uses predominantly secular texts, emphasising most strongly his passionate devotion to poetry and the performances are no less riveting. Stephen Layton marshals his choral and orchestral forces to telling effect and both singers and players display that austere discipline which is so vital to produce a blended and cohesive sound and do justice to Lauridsen's harmonic language. Sound, presentation and annotations are as usual, of the highest standards' (Classical.net)

'This sumptuous CD by the English vocal ensemble Polyphony, under the direction of Stephen Layton. Their glorious sound and subtle interpretations do complete justice to Lauridsen's scores, including the Mid-Winter Songs, Les chansons des roses and the brand-new, rapturous Nocturnes, of which this disc is the premiere recording. The Polyphony performances make it clear why Lauridsen is today's preeminent choral composer; you'll hear every nuance of voicing and harmony, enveloped by a choral sound that is shaped by a masterly hand, with quicksilver changes and contrasts. The Britten Sinfonia is featured in the Mid-Winter Songs; the other works are a cappella, sung here at a standard against which all subsequent choral recordings should be judged' (The Seattle Times, USA)

'Nocturnes creates a complex and strange beauty that doesn't sound like any other composer. Yet for all its musical intricacy, the work has a direct and powerful emotional impact—not the impact of a scream, but of an intimate whisper that cuts right through you. Listening to these pieces repeatedly, I find my tough, old heart filled with both wonder and gratitude' (The Slate, USA)

'You know something's up when two of the highest-profile and most honored American composers of serious choral music keep getting onto planes and heading to England to have their work recorded' (CNN)

Les chansons des roses
composer
1993
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
If the creation of the Mid-Winter Songs was the result of the composer’s close reading of the works of a British poet, the origin of Les chansons des roses (1993) stems from Lauridsen’s abiding love of the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. Aside from poems written in his native tongue of German, Rilke created a substantial body of French verse. The first of Rilke’s French poems to be set by Lauridsen, a lovely and mysterious poem concerning a rose, was Dirait-on, which is scored for chorus and piano. In Dirait-on Lauridsen magically evokes the wistfulness of the chansons populaires immortalized by Edith Piaf. The artistic success of Dirait-on encouraged the composer to select four more of Rilke’s French poems celebrating roses; the result was the glowing choral cycle on this disc.

Just as with the Mid-Winter Songs, Les chansons des roses are cast as an arch form. Lauridsen devised an ingenious and subtly interconnected formal design by further developing the musical materials of the opening movement, En une seule fleur, in the third, De ton rêve trop plein, while bringing the materials of the second movement, Contre qui, rose, to full consummation in the fourth section, La rose complète. Thus Dirait-on, written first but placed last, becomes the voluptuous summation of the entire work. Lauridsen brilliantly emphasizes the cumulative quality of Dirait-on—which is filled with elaborate polyphony that flows by as naturally as a stream—by reserving the entry of the piano for this luminous finale. (While Lauridsen’s expertise at writing for choral forces is often commented on, his elegantly judged writing for piano is equally assured; as is evident on this recording, the composer himself is an expert pianist who coaxes particularly alluring sonorities from the keyboard.)

Unlike the extroverted intensity that characterizes the Mid-Winter Songs, Les chansons des roses are so intimate as to suggest an introspective self-communing. Lauridsen has remarked how certain lines in Rilke’s verse attracted him immediately and how in Contre qui, rose he was particularly touched by this poet’s expression of ‘the state of giving love and not receiving it back’. Like the German poet, the American composer has tapped a profound source of inspiration by contemplating the evanescent beauty of a rose. In his perceptive volume Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation William H Gass aptly describes how images of this flower pervade this sensitive poet’s œuvre: ‘Roses climb his life as if he were their trellis.’ So, too, in his Les chansons des roses, Lauridsen translates the poet’s love for roses into rapturous music that entwines its way throughout the trellis of the listener’s memory.

from notes by Byron Adams © 2007

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