There’s a perception that classical listeners have to choose between the credible and the enjoyable: liking Karl Jenkins is somehow less valid than liking Beethoven. It’s a deep-set prejudice that will take time to uproot, but albums like the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge’s Northern Lights do much to help the cause. Outrageously beautiful music, seriously and impeccably performed—this recording is guilty pleasure and take-home-to-meet-the-parents all in one.
There’s a huge choral tradition in Latvia, and composer Ēriks Ešenvalds is one of its finest products. Spacious sonic landscapes echo those of his homeland, folk melodies cushioned by glowing webs of harmony that owe something to the American tradition of Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre.
Stephen Layton draws extraordinary and urgent performances from his young singers—finding both the power (the Trinity Te Deum swells to an almost symphonic climax) and delicacy (Only in Sleep, The Earthly Rose) in music that is never content simply to be pretty.
Ešenvalds’ melodies are a musical déjà vu, familiar even on first hearing—contemporary classics in the making. Poised on the brink of sentimentality, what keeps this music from tipping over is the unblinking sincerity of performances charged with real emotional intent. The result is arresting in its intensity.