Brian J. Nelson | Vocalise - Instrumental and Vocal Music of Brian J. Nelson

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Classical: Chamber Music Classical: Choral Music Moods: Type: Lyrical
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Vocalise - Instrumental and Vocal Music of Brian J. Nelson

by Brian J. Nelson

A deeply lyrical and contemplative collection of his chamber music, art songs and choral works. Classical music lovers love this disc!
Genre: Classical: Chamber Music
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Vocalise for Solo Cello, Op. 1 (feat. Matthew Herren)
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8:16 $0.99
2. Two Songs of Two Loves, Op. 2, No. I: Just Yesterday (feat. Sharon O'Connell Campbell and Ellen Bottorff)
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4:31 $0.99
3. Two Songs of Two Loves, Op. 2, No. II: I Sought Him (feat. Sharon O'Connell Campbell and Ellen Bottorff)
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4:56 $0.99
4. Three Motets, Op. 7, No. I: Tears (feat. Melanie Melcher Cuthbertson, Amy Waldron, Paula Brekken, Leah Jenkins, Jay Van Blaricum, Jason Parr, Brady Shepherd, Benjamin Winters)
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6:54 $0.99
5. Three Motets, Op. 7, No. II: Truly, Truly I Say to You (feat. Melanie Melcher Cuthbertson, Amy Waldron, Paula Brekken, Leah Jenkins, Jay Van Blaricum, Jason Parr, Brady Shepherd, Benjamin Winters)
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3:02 $0.99
6. Three Motets, Op. 7, No. III: Therefore are They Before the Throne of God (feat. Melanie Melcher Cuthbertson, Amy Waldron, Paula Brekken, Leah Jenkins, Jay Van Blaricum, Jason Parr, Brady Shepherd, Benjamin Winters)
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9:12 $0.99
7. Of Spiritual Joy and Sorrow - Two Canticles for High Voice Solo, Op. 3, No. IIa: Alleluia (feat. Jason Parr)
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2:12 $0.99
8. Of Spiritual Joy and Sorrow - Two Canticles for High Voice Solo, Op. 3, No. IIb, How Lonely Sits the City (feat. Jason Parr)
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5:13 $0.99
9. Ballade for Violin and Piano, Op. 15 (feat. Ellen Bottorff, Tami Lee Hughes)
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11:08 $0.99
10. Psalm 100, Op. 10 (feat. Townes Osborn Miller, Ellen Bottorff, (feat. Melanie Melcher Cuthbertson, Amy Waldron, Paula Brekken, Leah Jenkins, Jay Van Blaricum, Jason Parr, Brady Shepherd, Ben Winters)
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5:50 $0.99
11. Seven Reflections on the State Songs, Op. 18, No. I: Ad Astra per Aspera (feat. Ruth Kuefler, Leigh Miller Munoz)
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1:53 $0.99
Available as MP3, MP3 320, and FLAC files.


Album Notes

The connective thread in this album is, quite simply, song, whether embodied in an instrumental or purely vocal form. Vocalise for Solo Cello, the title track of the CD, brings out the innate expressive quality of this great instrument. Completed in 1997 and dedicated to my father Donald G. Nelson, this piece was written with great joy in the midst of a renewed conviction that I was meant to be a composer.

Two Songs of Two Loves began its life as a commission from mezzo soprano Jordana Lenon to write an art song as a gift for her parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. Jordana herself composed the text for Just Yesterday, replete with references
to her parents’ enduring love over many years. The piece represents all that is good and wholesome about human love. Soon after Just Yesterday was premiered at the anniversary celebration in 1999, I thought to add a second song, setting a passage from the Song of Songs and exploring the theme of divine love. I Sought Him–completed in 2007–shares much in common with the first song but with a more mystical flavor, mirroring the shades of affect present in this classic, allegorical text.

Three Motets is a large-scale work for a cappella chorus, exploring a wide range of emotions and spiritual states. Tears, a setting of a poem by Maya Angelou, evokes a sense of world-weariness, imbued with deep spiritual regret. Truly, Truly, I say to You brings the weary soul to Christ, in whose death we must share, for “He who loves his life shall lose it. He who hates his life in this world shall keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25). Last in the series, Therefore Are They Before the Throne of God vividly portrays the fulfillment of that promise in heaven. The piece begins with a wordless, musical portrait of the heavenly places, interspersed with tenor solos projecting the words of the Elder from Revelation 7:14, directing our attention toward “the crowd of people in white robes” standing before God’s throne. “These are they who have come through the great tribulation,” and are represented by the full choir. After a broad statement from the latter, the music turns to a dramatic presentation of God’s promises, concluding with a triumphant setting of “and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” The wordless music from the beginning returns with a spacious reflection on previous themes. Finally, and sung as if by an onlooking heavenly host, the motet concludes with an extended “Amen.”

Of Spiritual Joy and Sorrow is comprised of two pieces for solo tenor, based on Scriptural texts adapted by the composer. Alleluia is a paraphrase of Philippians 2:5-11. In this famous and beautiful passage, St. Paul describes how Christ humbled himself in order to accomplish his redemptive work our behalf. As a reward for his obedience to death, “even death on a cross,” God raised him to the glory he had “before the foundation of the world” and gave him “a name above every name”.

How Lonely Sits the City was commissioned by Jeff Ford in 1995 as a lament for all those who have lost their lives to abortion. The text is taken from various portions of The Lamentations of Jerimiah from the Old Testament. Even in the midst of such deep sorrow, God offers great hope to Israel and, by extension, to us. But this requires repentance and faith on our part, “for the Lord is good to those who trust in him, to the soul that seeks him.”

Returning now explicitly to the theme of song, Ballade for Violin & Piano maps out a lyrical musical journey ending in a serene and heavenly reward. Like Dante with Virgil (and later Beatrice) in the Divine Comedy, the two instruments here are very evenly matched: full partners in their upward musical travels.

In contrast, Psalm 100, represents the whole Church singing praise to God. Commissioned by Irmgard Bittar in 1999 for the dedication of Lutheran Church of the Living Christ in Madison, WI, the piece opens with bold, clanging piano chords, followed quickly by a fanfare with the full choir. The piano rhythms subside to accompaniment as the rest of the piece unfolds. The overall form is that of an inverted arch, bold and strong from the beginning and winding down to perfect stillness in the middle as a single, lost sheep—personified by the soprano soloist—comes to rest on the words “and the sheep of his hand.” From here to the end the music gathers speed and strength, returning to the declamatory character of the beginning and ending with a rousing “Amen!”

Ad Astra per Aspera has an unlikely, even humorous origin. It was written for the Lawrence, Kansas-based Helianthus Ensemble and its first annual “Iron Composer” competition in October, 2009. Composed in a single day, the “secret ingredient” was the first five notes of the state song, Home on the Range. Having lived in Kansas for the past eight years, I’ve come to love its special beauty. This short, musical meditation highlights the innate loveliness of the landscape, but also the sense of yearning that it inspires. The bassoon gives voice to this longing, while the violin speaks of the transcendent to which we all instinctively aspire. The title is the Kansas state motto, which translates,“To the stars through trials,” a fitting summary both for the piece and for the message of the album as a whole.


Brian was born in Madison, Wisconsin and received his Bachelor of Composition from the University of Michigan in 1990 where he studied with William Bolcom, William Albright and Nick Thorne. He completed a Masters degree in Composition at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in May 2000. He is currently a D.M.A. candidate in Composition at the University of Kansas School of Music, Lawrence, Kansas, where he studies with James Barnes. Brian is a prolific composer of sacred music as well as chamber and orchestral works. Recent pieces include Elegiac Folk Song for French Horn and Piano – commissioned by Alice Codiek and premiered by her and Ellen Bottorff, piano, in 2008; Ballade for Violin and Piano, which recieves its premiere recording on this disk; Capriccio for Flute, Oboe and Piano, commissioned and premiered by Allégresse Trio in 2009, and Responsorial Psalms for Advent and Christmas, a collection of responsories based on the Catholic lectionary and recorded on a CD of the same name also available on CD Baby.

A committed Catholic, Brian is known for his cheerful, professional approach. He works well with professionals, amateurs and young people, and feels a particularly strong commitment to local cultural life. He can be contacted at the phone, email and web site address listed below. For sheet music availability, go to For bios of the performers on this recording, go to

Brian J. Nelson – Composer


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Vocalise CD Review by Matthew Warnock – January 2011
The human voice is a magnificent instrument, one that can scream to the rafters, sending chills down one’s spine, and immediately after deliver a performance so heart wrenching that it leaves not a dry eye in the house. American composer Brian J. Nelson is an artist that fully grasps the immense range and texture of vocal music, and how powerful the medium of songs can be in developing an emotional connection with his audience. His latest recording, Vocalise, is a celebration of vocal works and song, full of stellar musicianship, intense emotional turns and world-class composing and arranging.

One of the most interesting and compelling aspects of the album is that it is named after a work written not for the voice, but for the cello. “Vocalise for Solo Cello” starts off the album with a performance that is so fluid and organic that it sounds as if the cellist is simply improvising the melodies for each section of the piece, an accomplishment of the highest merit in the compositional world. Using vibrato, careful phrasing and sustained notes, the cello takes on the character of a vocalist during the piece, bringing the instrument to life as it weaves and flows through each line and phrase of the work. It may seem like an odd choice to begin an album titled Vocalise with a piece for cello, but upon hearing the work it becomes apparent that the album is a statement on the universal character of song, that song can be expressed clearly and effectively with lyrics just as well as it can in an instrumental piece.

The vocal pieces on the album are just as compelling as the opening work for cello. It is quite apparent that Nelson feels a strong connection to the voice and to vocalists, and his writing portrays this connection. Works such as “Three Motets” are masterfully written for multiple voices. With a strong focus on melody and melodic development, these works showcase many different vocal writing techniques, all done with the utmost attention to detail and musicianship. There are moments where the voices swell in and out of the forefront, passing the listener’s attention from one singer to the next, while at other moments the group sings as a whole and in others the men and women sing separately. This kind of compositional diversity speaks highly of the creative nature of Nelson’s work, and in his ability to draw the listener in with the variety of textures and melodic combinations he uses in his works.

Vocalise is an enjoyable album that appeals to both fans of the genre and musical scholars at the same time. Casual listeners will be able to become lost in each piece as melody and harmony come together in exciting and captivating ways. It is a testament to Nelson’s writing style that he can maintain the highest musical integrity of his pieces, while allowing his works to be enjoyed by non-musicians, and even newcomers to the genre, at the same time.

As well, fellow composers and students of vocal works and song will find plenty of inspiration in Nelson’s writing, especially the fact that he is able to write works that are emotional, entertaining and musically interesting at the same time. It is a rarity it seems in today’s classical music world to find a composer that can keep things interesting and listenable at the same time, while avoiding being an imitation of eras gone by, two things that Nelson accomplishes on this record.

Review by Matthew Warnock

Matthew Warnock is a professional guitarist and pedagogue. He is the editor of Guitar International Magazine. He can be reached through his website at

Diane and the Reviewer Team

Exquisite Classical/Chamber Compositions
Discover the exquisite Classical/Chamber compositions on the superb album, “Vocalise - Instrumental and Vocal Music of Brian J. Nelson.” As an inspired composer, Nelson has established reflective spiritual meditations throughout his CD with well produced vocals and instruments. The album starts with the song, “Vocalise for Solo Cello, Op. 1 (feat. Matthew Herren),” as one can sense the tender and heartfelt emotions that ring forth from the poignant cello as it plays a stirring melody. The choral composition, “Three Motets, Op. 7, No. I: Tears (feat. Melanie Melcher Cuthbertson, Amy Waldron, Paula Brekken, Leah Jenkins, Jay Van Blaricum, Jason Parr, Brady Shepherd, Benjamin Winters),” presents angelic voices that sing with divine tonality. The soothing piano caresses the emotive violin on, “Ballade for Violin and Piano, Op. 15 (feat. Ellen Bottorff, Tami Lee Hughes),” as this insightful song absorbs you into a calm and reserving mood. Let the beautiful works on the sweet and delicate album, “Vocalise - Instrumental and Vocal Music of Brian J. Nelson,” relax your mind and body while soothing your soul.