Lukaszewski - Choral Works - Fanfare USA



Stephen Layton is arguably the finest choral director working today in the U.K., a country seemingly bursting with musical talent. The choruses with which he has worked­­   —the Netherlands Chamber Chorus, Danish Radio Chorus, Polyphony, The Holst Singers, and this group, the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge—have produced a stream of recordings of unfailingly high quality. This CD is no exception. Layton’s choral scholars sing this technically challenging music, with its dazzling polytonal clusters, complex chords, and nontraditional progressions with absolute purity of tone, perfection of intonation, and depth of feeling. That is enough reason in itself to acquire this, but there is more than virtuosity to commend this recording.

We live in a renaissance of sacred choral music, epitomized by the highly expressive, intensely devotional compositions of Pärt, Tavener, Górecki, MacMillan, Lauridsen, and others. It hardly seems reckless to predict that this will one day be regarded as a golden age. And on the strength of this program, the first major release devoted to his work, it is clear that Polish composer Pawel Lukaszewski (b.1968) belongs in this company of titans. Any listener to the works of the composers listed above, especially the first three, will know, basically, what to expect. The intensely rapturous building of climaxes, the unerring amplification of the text, the use of tonality in non-standard ways—“renewed tonality,” as Lukaszewski calls it—are all shared attributes. But Lukaszewski is more inventive harmonically than any of them and, seemingly unwilling to repeat himself, explores new expressive means in every one of these 15 a capella works. I found myself amazed at each subtle harmonic surprise, at each stunningly apt underlining of a phrase. My notes for this review are a mess, as time and again I simply stopped writing, frozen in place by the sheer otherworldly beauty of what I was hearing.

These works are a prospectus of his compositional career, ranging from an already characteristic student composition, a double choir Ave Maria, to the recently completed, achingly beautiful Nunc dimittis dedicated to Stephen Layton. Centrepiece to the collection is a seven-movement set of Advent antiphons, settings of seventh-century devotional texts. Written to be performed separately, they function admirably as a single work, tracing a penitent’s prayers for salvation from the agitated invocations of Wisdom (“O Sapientia”) with its Reichian motoric ostinato, to the darkly anguished call from spiritual prison (“O clavis David”) with its whispered moments of awed insight, to the concluding celebratory song of praise to the Savior (“O Emmanuel”) with its dramatic glissandos and ecstatic suspensions. And I haven’t even mentioned the deft characterisation of the three saints in the Beatus vir selections, or the dramatic setting of Psalm 102. Do not hesitate.

Ronald E. Grames

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