The Fifth Element #63 Page 3

So I sent Lauridsen an e-mail that began "Stop me if you've heard this one . . ." His reply was not long in coming, and I swear I heard, from more than 3000 miles away, the sound of palm impacting on forehead. To say the least, he liked the idea, and despite being on his summer vacation, began work on it right away.

In a few weeks, Morten sent me a .pdf of the score in its then stage of typesetting. I was shocked and humbled to see that he had dedicated the new work to .†.†. me. So as far as I am concerned, I have already received a great and rare Christmas present. The final score, edited by Nathaniel Rosen and with a word to the players from me, should be available soon. JA and I plan to cooperate in recording the piece. Exactly what we will do with the result remains to be seen, but it should be great fun.

Back to our friends in Hartford. The program on Voce's Sure On This Shining Night is unusually diverse, combining all four of the Nocturnes (with Lauridsen himself at the piano) with excerpts from Cuatro Canciones, Madrigali, A Winter Come, Lux Aeterna, and Les Chansons des Roses, and various individual works. Four of the recordings are premieres, and the "Chanson …loignÈe" alone is worth the price of admission. It's heartbreakingly beautiful. If you care about Lauridsen's music, just buy it.

Ultimately, I come out on a bit of a strange place with this new CD. I could nitpick this or that, but strangely enough, although I'm in awe of Polyphony's technical perfection, I find that Voce's comparative lack of same lends an organicity, even an incantatory quality, to the music. Lauridsen's music is not about technique anyway, but about soulfulness. My guess is, you will either get Voce's approach or not.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale's Lux ∆terna (CD, RCM 19705), combining the orchestral version of the title work with the complete Les Chansons des Roses and O Magnum Mysterium, remains for me the best one-disc introduction to Lauridsen's art. But if you already have that, I think Voce's Sure On This Shining Night is the best one-disc introduction to the rest of his canon.

Voce's mission is to use their concerts to partner in fundraising with worthy causes; a portion of the net proceeds from sales of Sure On This Shining Night has been earmarked for Hartford's Habitat for Humanity. Please take this as a little nudge to do a nice holiday thing: go to their website, buy the CD directly from them, and perhaps use the PayPal Donate button on the website to give a little extra.

This is the day
I recently had the peak experience of helping Wilson Audio Specialties' Peter McGrath set up and dial in a pair of Wilson Audio Alexandria II loudspeakers ($158,000/pair). The seven crates containing all the modular components for a pair weigh a total of 2250 lbs, and Wilson Audio has thought through just about everything. The only moment of anxiety was when, during my process of uncrating and laying out and un-shrink-wrapping all the various bits and pieces before McGrath arrived, I failed to notice that a step in the assembly manual had already been done for me by the factory, and so kept looking for certain machine bolts in the parts box that were already holding down something on the bass modules. (I confess I was a bit tired.) A quick phone call straightened that out.

The Alexandria's innards are as zu ordern as one finds in an expensive German film camera, and the high-gloss automotive finish is applied even to areas that will not be seen once the modules are bolted together. Practical, real-world-friendly touches abound, such as the bass modules' having casters already installed—they just roll out of their shipping crates, and the fully assembled speakers can be easily moved around. The parts kit includes a motorcycle-engine jack, so the speakers can be lifted and the casters changed out for spikes, once the final speaker positions have been determined.

I was surprised that, when Peter McGrath was ready to do the fine work of shifting the speakers closer and farther back in half-inch increments, the only test track he used was one from a singer-songwriter CD (although this singer-songwriter did not write this particular song) by an Irish chap I had at least heard of, Christy Moore.

I was taken (or taken in) by the title track of Moore's This Is the Day (Columbia Sony Music 5-3225.2), "So Do I." The first line is "This is the day the fisherman likes, and so do I." A girl in a muslin dress is also somehow involved.

It's not a technically fabulous recording, but a very nice and natural one, and it sounds very analog. If you're going to hear the same track for hours on end while nudging this way and that, ¼" at a time, speakers that weigh about 750 lbs each, it had better sound like analog. What McGrath was listening for was undue emphasis in the upper bass and chestiness in the lower midrange.


JasonVSerinus's picture

In John Marks' otherwise excellent column, he repeats misinformation about Cuba's policy toward and treatment of homosexuals. Based on a 26-year old film, he makes a totally unsupportable and untrue statement - that the present-day Castro regime imprisons and tortures homosexuals. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Official Cuban policy is totally supportive of lesbians, gays, and transgenders. Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and head of Cuba's National Sex Education Center, has spearheaded a huge campaign among the populace about the need to treat lesbians and gays as equals. There was even an officially sanctioned gay rights march in Havana in 2009. Transgenders (some of whom are homosexual) are not only afforded the same free medical care as everyone else, but can also receive gender reassignment surgery after two years of counseling and preparation.

Cuba's former President, Fidel Castro, publicly apologized last summer for the repression of homosexuals in the early days of the Cuban revolution, and called it "a great injustice." It was. But that was before the 1993 Cuban film, Strawberry and Chocolate, and the documentary In the Wrong Body instigated a nationwide discussion of historic attitudes toward homosexuals and the need for change. Although Cuba has yet to sanction same-sex marriage, same sex civil union legislation is currently being debated in the Cuban parliament. All things considered, Cuba's official policy toward homosexuals is light years ahead of state policy in many parts of the world.