This disc is quite the home-run from the Naxos American Classic series - then again these days it's near impossible to pluck anything out from this most invaluable series that is not worth adding to one's library! Although the total playing time of this disc is only 57:21 (and I don't mean to quibble however works such as his "Symphony for Strings" or his jaunty "Concertante" could have fit on this program, and oh how nicely!), the three works presented display Paulus at his finest.
The Concerto "Three Places of Enlightenment" is highly energized and engaging, and only the middle movement allows time for extended reflection (the composer speaks of his hope that the listener shall actually experience these three realms or "places" of enlightenment). "Veil of Tears" is a moving, elegiac interlude from his Holocaust oratorio "To Be Certain of the Dawn that follows" and is in the tradition of Samuel Barber's Adagio. The "Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra" is Grand indeed-and quite beautiful. It immediately went to the top of my Organ Concerti list (yes, along with Poulenc but also the masterful Sowerby, Hanson, Rutti, Hindemith (Organ Concerto & Kammermusik No. 7), Jongen's incredible Symphonie Concertante, Hendrik Andriessen's wonderful yet neglected Concerto, and so on..)
Sadly Paulus passed away last year, which I didn't know until recently reading the up to date bio on his website. Here is the biography from the Stephen Paulus page:
American Composer (1949-2014)
Stephen Paulus was a prolific American composer of classical music. He wrote over 600 works for chorus, opera, orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo voice, concert band, piano, and organ, receiving premieres and performances throughout the world as well as a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Classical Composition in 2015. His musical style has been described by The New York Times as “lush and extravagant,” and critics from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer Opera News, and many others have praised his work. The New Yorker described him as a "bright, lyrical inventor whose music pulsates with a driving, kinetic energy." He was a recipient of both NEA and Guggenheim Fellowships.
Beginning in 1979, fresh out of graduate school with a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, he was commissioned by the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and later went on to write a total of 12 operas with performances coming from the Boston Lyric Opera, Washington Opera, Minnesota Opera, Sacramento Opera, The Berkshire Opera Company, and others.
With 55 orchestral works to his credit, Paulus served as a Composer in Residence with the orchestras of Atlanta, Minnesota, Tucson and Annapolis. Conductors who premiered his works include Osmo Vänskä, Christoph van Dohnanyi, Kurt Masur, Sir Neville Marriner, and Leonard Slatkin. Orchestral commissions include a violin concerto for the Cleveland Orchestra and William Preucil, a jazz concerto co-written with his son, Greg, for the Minnesota Orchestra as well as organ concertos for the Phoenix Symphony and the Portland (Maine) Symphony.
Paulus wrote over 400 works for chorus ranging from his Holocaust oratorio, To Be Certain of the Dawn, recorded by Minnesota Orchestra on the BIS label, to the poignant anthem, "Pilgrims' Hymn," sung at the funerals of Presidents Reagan and Ford. Both works were written with his frequent collaborator and friend, librettist Michael Dennis Browne. His works have received thousands of performances and recordings from such groups as The New York Choral Society, L.A. Master Chorale, Robert Shaw Festival Singers, VocalEssence, Dale Warland Singers and countless others. Notable works for vocalist and orchestra include commissions for Thomas Hampson, Deborah Voigt, Samuel Ramey and Elizabeth Futral. Instrumental soloists who have performed Paulus’ works range from Doc Severinsen and Leo Kottke to Robert McDuffie, William Preucil, Lynn Harrell and Cynthia Phelps.
Paulus was a passionate advocate for the works and careers of his colleagues. In 1973 he co-founded the Minnesota Composers Forum, now known as the American Composers Forum, the largest composer service organization in the U.S. He also served as the Symphony and Concert Representative on the board of ASCAP from 1990 until 2014.
Stephen Paulus passed away in October, 2014 from complications of a stroke, but his music continues to be frequently performed and described by critics as rugged, angular, lyrical, lean, rhythmically aggressive, original, often gorgeous, moving, and uniquely American. The New Yorker characterizes his music as having "impeccable technique and well-honed audience appeal," while The New York Times says "Mr. Paulus often finds melodic patterns that are fresh and familiar at the same time...His scoring is invariably expert and exceptionally imaginative in textures and use of instruments."
Enjoy this exceptional music everyone!