O Magnum Mysterium (CD review)

Robert Shaw, Robert Shaw Festival Singers and the Robert Chamber Singers. Telarc CD-80531.

Around the time of this 2000 release, Telarc began repackaging quite a lot of their older material and reissuing it under a new name. In the case of O Magnum Mysterium, recorded by the late Robert Shaw (1916-1999) and his singers between 1989 and 1997, the first four items had never been released before. My only regret about this otherwise splendidly sung collection of items for a cappella voice is that it lasts a scant fifty-six minutes. I recall years ago Telarc promising never to produce a disc that didn't have at least an hour of music on it. Oh, well, what we do have is plenty good enough.

The dozen pieces on the program represent the spiritual side of a number of composers from various eras and various parts of the world. It begins with a few selections by Renaissance composers, Thomas Tallis's (1505-1585) "If You Love Me" and "A New Commandment" and Tomas Luis de Victoria's (1549-1611) "O Vos omnes" and the first of three settings for the title number "O Magnum Mysterium."

Robert Shaw
These and most of the rest of the works on the album are sung by Robert Shaw's Festival Singers, the group he organized after his stint as Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony ended and he could go back to what he appeared to love best, choral music. The Festival Singers are, of course, the reincarnation of his old Robert Shaw Chorale of the Fifties and Sixties. They do several twentieth-century pieces, Morten Lauridsen's setting of "O Magnum Mysterium," as well as Francis Poulenc's version, and Henryk Gorecki's "Totus Tuus." In between are excerpts from Rachmaninoff's "Vespers" and Schubert's "Der Entfernten," which, for male chorus, is especially exquisite. A smaller group, the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers, do three American hymns: "Wondrous Love," "Amazing Grace," and "Sometimes I Feel Like a Moanin' Dove."

As always and as expected, the singing is immaculate, every syllable clearly articulated and cleanly rendered. Best of all, Telarc's sound is lucid without being bright or hard, rich without being soft or fuzzy, spacious without being overly reverberant or cavernous. This is a most enjoyable recording with much to recommend it, not least of all Shaw's eloquent direction of unaccompanied voices on a sometimes large scale.

JJP

To listen to a few brief excerpts from this album, click below:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa