Gayla Blaisdell Performs the Songs of Ross and Paulus

By Berg, Gregory | Journal of Singing, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Gayla Blaisdell Performs the Songs of Ross and Paulus


Berg, Gregory, Journal of Singing


Gay la Blaisdell Performs the Songs of Ross and Paulus. Gayla Bauer Blaisdell, soprano; Elaine M. Ross, piano; Dorothy Henderson, trumpet. (55:21)

Elaine Ross: "Will the Wind Whisper?1' "Only Then Can We Smile"; Four Emily Dickinson Songs: "Heart, We Will Forget Him," "Why Do They Shut Me Out Of Heaven?" "Will There Really be a Morning?" "There Came a Wind Like a Bugle"; Stephen Paulus: Erotic Spirits: "Eros," "Together We Celebrate," "How Sweet," "Love's Delicacy," "Doing, a Filthy Pleasure Is, and Short," "Alone, Lonely," "Fireflies," "Late Evening."

The world of music is still mourning the unexpected death in 2014 of composer Stephen Paulus, one of the finest and most highly regarded choral music composers of the last half century. Two of his motets, "Pilgrim's Hymn" and "Hymn to America," are among the most often performed works of their kind, but they are only the tip of a most formidable iceberg. Paulus crafted more than 600 works, with many written as composer-inresidence for both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Among his most notable compositions was the Holocaustthemed oratorio To Be Certain of the Dawn, as well as his opera The Postman Rings Twice, which is the most frequently performed of his twelve operas. A staggering array of singers, including Samuel Ramey, Elizabeth Futral, Jessye Norman, Hâkan Hagegârd, and Evelyn Lear, commissioned works from him. Not many composers of our time can boast of such a legacy.

Art songs are not the first thing one thinks of with Paulus, but he composed more than sixty of them, including several highly regarded cycles such as All My Pretty Ones, The Long Shadow of Lincoln, and Bittersuite. Erotic Spirits was actually conceived for soprano and orchestra and premiered by Deborah Voigt and the Augusta Symphony Orchestra in 2004. The performance here is of the composer's own piano reduction, and one has not the slightest sense that this is the pale echo of a richer original. It is an endlessly colorful and evocative work, with Paulus drawing vivid inspiration from this array of ancient texts on various themes of love and passion. As for the vocal writing, it displays Paulus's faultless instincts both for setting text and for crafting grateful vocal lines, although the tessitura of some of these songs is unkind. Be forewarned that if one's acquaintance with the music of Stephen Paulus is confined to his best known choral anthems, then these songs are apt to be a shocking surprise. There is a brash inventiveness at play here that is worlds away from the soothing radiance of his "Hymn to America." One should listen especially for the lengthy piano introductions that create a rich and compelling backdrop for each and every song. His use of dissonance is fairly daring but always to the service of the text at hand.

The recording opens with six songs by the disk's pianist, Elaine Ross, who is a theory professor at Ohio University and a prolific composer in a number of different genres. Her Four Emily Dickinson Songs tread on familiar ground, since three of the four poems are part of Aaron Copland's iconic set of Dickinson songs. …

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