"To Be Certain of the Dawn," oratorio by Stephen Paulus, text by Michael Dennis Browne; Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä, conductor (BIS)
The Minnesota Orchestra's recording of Stephen Paulus' oratorio "To Be Certain of the Dawn" is a major event. This is a momentous work receiving a stellar performance. It's a disc that lovers of contemporary choral music will want to have in their collection.
Premiered in 2005 at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, this large-scale work powerfully commemorates the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. Paulus demonstrates his roots as an opera composer, creating music that is aurally engaging and dramatically compelling.
He scored the work for cantor, four soloists, children's chorus, mixed chorus and orchestra and demonstrates himself adept at managing massed forces, especially in his depictions of the horror of the Holocaust.
But he is even more effective in the quiet depictions of humanity. Librettist Michael Dennis Browne has created compelling tales based on a series of photographs of Holocaust victims that gain in power when juxtaposed with the strong choruses.
The soloists, led by local mezzo-soprano Christina Baldwin and including soprano Elizabeth Futral, tenor John Tessier and bass-baritone Philip Cokorinos, are frequently heartbreaking. Temple Israel cantor Barry Abelson is a powerful presence throughout, giving the deeply spiritual work added gravitas.
There are too few recordings of the magnificent Minnesota Chorale. With any luck, their dazzling work here will change that. They are ably partnered by the Minnesota Boychoir, the Basilica Cathedral Choir and the Cathedral Choristers.
Minnesota Orchestra and conductor Osmo Vänskä have taken this work to heart. The performance here is challenging, capturing both the work's horror and its humanity.
This is music of profound faith and genuine hope. With the repeated chanting of "V'a havta le reacha kamocha" ("You should love your neighbor as yourself"), it offers a light of interfaith reconciliation that is much needed in our world today.
WILLIAM RANDALL BEARD, MINNEAPOLIS WRITER