Stephen Paulus – World Premier Concertos

Two concertos by the late Stephen Paulus receive their world premier recordings with this Naxos release. And both contain many rewards for the listener.

The Concerto for String quartet and Orchestra (Three Places of Enlightenment) moves from an intense, tightly-wound first movement, through a relaxed, ethereal middle movement to a rousing, emotionally satisfying conclusion. The string quartet, while coming to the fore to present the themes, often blends in with the orchestra as it amplifies the melodies.

Paulus wrote that the the Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra “employs full orchestra and some wide, sweeping gestures and melodic ideas.” He wasn’t kidding. This is big-sounding music that uses the organ to full advantage. Paulus quotes hymns “All is Well” and “Waly Waly,” then builds upon them. The concerto is an engaging work that should appeal to everyone, not just organ aficionados.

Also included is the short Veil of Tears for String Orchestra. This quiet, somber work reminded me of Barber’s Adagio for Strings in its character.

Giacarlo Guerrero leads the Nashville Symphony in sympathetic, authoritative performances Guerrero had a close working relationship with the composer, and brings to these works a deep understanding of what Paulus was trying to say. Kudos also to organist Nathan J. Laube for his exciting and expressive performance.

Stephen Paulus: Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra (Three Places of Enlightenment); Veil of Tears for String Orchestra; Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra Nathan J. Laube, organ; Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor 

Naxos 8.559740

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