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This noticeable lack of sentimentality is apparent in Paulus’s choice of text in the first carol, Jesu’s lyfelyne, by a medieval prioress, which is rather more like a list describing the lineage of Jesus than a charming carol text. An anonymous text from the sixteenth century brings us the rousing sailor song, The ship carol. The rippling harp accompaniment effortlessly carries the singers along their journey during which ‘Our Lord harped, our Lady sang’. There is much bleakness and poverty in Robert Southwell’s New prince, new pomp (written shortly before his execution in 1595) and in his setting of part of this poem, Waye not his cribb, Paulus reinforces the contrast between the babe’s divinity and humble humanity by opposing stark dissonance with untainted major tonality. This is carried right through to the final chord where, against the concluding pure fifth of the upper voices, can be heard a tonally opposing chime from the harp. Word-painting abounds as the composer moves through the narrative of the final movement, The neighbors of Bethlehem, a translation of a thirteenth-century French carol. The piece is wound up with two lines of text: ‘God hath appeared on earth below’, set for lower voices, and with ethereal bitonal harmony the upper voices sing ‘O come ye shepherds, wake, arise!’. A distinctive motif (heard in the soprano solo) unifies the movement, and provides a final call in the harp part over the last chord.
from notes by Stephen W Salts © 2015
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New American choral works by René Clausen and Stephen Paulus recorded by one of the best young choirs around.» More