Far in the Heavens: Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Far in the Heavens: Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

by True Concord Voices


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Several recordings of music by composer Stephen Paulus have appeared since his death in 2014; to paraphrase an old bluegrass song, it might have been better to give him the roses while he lived! That said, the present recording was actually commissioned before Paulus' death, and it includes his own cogent notes on the main composition, a seven-movement work for chorus and orchestra called "Prayers and Remembrances." The work was written for a performance on the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and it commemorates not only that event, but the personal losses suffered in its aftermath: its commissioner, Dorothy Vanek, lost friends and relatives in the attacks. The work was written to be paired with Mozart's "Requiem in D minor, K. 626," and uses a similar orchestra, but with the addition of flute, oboe, horns, percussion, and quite prominently, a harp. Paulus selected sacred and secular works from a variety of traditions, including the words of Mohammed and of a Navajo prayer (sample track five), to create a work of mourning that was spiritual, but not restricted to one faith. The practice is reminiscent of the larger choral works by John Rutter, and indeed Paulus has much in common with Rutter: despite the personal nature of the work, what he accomplishes is a large, public kind of mourning rooted in Romantic idioms. Much of Paulus' music was orchestral; he spent many years as composer-in-residence with major American orchestras, and he wrote several operas, a background also reflected in "Prayers and Remembrances." But he was also adept in more economical, a cappella pieces like those that round out the program. Paulus had a gift for clear choral textures, and the singers of the True Concord Voices can be clearly heard here despite the rather mushy high-school auditorium acoustics. That choir, from Tucson, Arizona, is one of the album's main attractions: it demonstrates the high quality of small regional choirs in the U.S. Recommended for those interested in Paulus and especially in his late works: all the music dates from the last few years of the composer's life.

Product Details

Release Date: 09/11/2015
Label: Reference Recordings
UPC: 0030911171629
catalogNumber: 716
Rank: 77008


  1. When Music Sounds, for double chorus
  2. Little Elegy, for chorus
  3. I Have Called You By Name, for chorus
  4. The Incomprehensible, for chorus, oboe & harp
  5. Nunc dimittis, for double chorus
  6. Prayers and Remembrances, for chorus & orchestra

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Far in the Heavens: Choral Music of Stephen Paulus 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
RGraves321 More than 1 year ago
The choral works on this release were all composed or revised within the last four years of Stephen Paulus' life. Their originality, quality, and expressiveness show just how great a loss the classical music world suffered with Paulus' untimely death. “Prayers and Remembrance” is the largest work on the album, written to commemorate 9/11. According to Paulus, it was written to be "spiritual without being religious." In that, he was successful. The work is elegiac and uplifting, without referencing the music of any faith tradition. The smoothly flowing melodic lines are supported with lush harmonies and deft orchestration. Soprano Kathryn Mueller is a particular standout in the third movement, making the seemingly simple melody a song from the heart. Shorter choral works make up the rest of the album, but don’t consider them mere filler. “Nunc dimittis” (rev. 2013) is an effective setting of the text -- an excellent example of Paulus at his best. "The Incomprehensible," "I Have Called You by Name" "Little Elegy" and "When Music Sounds" all demonstrate why Paulus was considered one of America's premier choral composers. The Concord of Voices & Orchestra, directed by Eric Holtan perform these works beautifully. The chorus has a good blend, and the performances -- as to be expected from Reference -- are impeccably recorded.