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Posted October 1, 2010
This CD release of the Beethoven Missa Solemnis with Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus is in my opinion the finest recorded performance this work has ever received and a pinnacle of this
distiguished conductor's long career. The interpretation, which is much
influenced by Toscanini especially in matters of tempo and articulation (Shaw was his chorus master in many of the elder maestros' recordings) is edge-of-your seat fiery in the fast sections and meltingly lyrical in the slower sections; all while never losing the structure of the work as a whole as well as the relationship of the sections within movements. Nothing either sags or is overly rushed as many other large-scaled performances of this type do.
Why do I single out this recording of the Beethoven from its many wor-
thy competitors? The answer is in the cohesiveness of the perform-
ing forces. Chorus, orchestra and soloists all perform as a unified
team and yet show thier individual strenghts in this fearsomely diffi-
cult music. The orchestra performs as never before and provides all the
support the chorus and soloists need, the four soloists are superb,not
least Sylvia McNair. But this is first and foremost a choral work, and in the Atlanta Symphony Chorus Beethoven's music has a worthy interpre-
ter. The chorus responds to the composer's near-impossible demands with
apparent ease(although I'm sure much practice was involved and paid off
beautifully) and is the most vocally secure of the many recordings of
the Missa that I have heard and also own, including Klemperer's with the Philharmonia of London. The recorded sound also tips the scales for Shaw - all performers are heard in a natural balance with each other; no detail in the grand picture is lost. So,in sum a Beethoven Missa Sol-
emnis that will stand the test of time and deserves pride of place next to such recordings as Klemperer, Karajan and Bernstein. What more can I
say? Ah yes, on to Mozart!
Shaw's recording of the Mozart C-Minor Mass is,like the Beethoven, totally convincing - chorus, orchestra and soloists are all superb as in the Beethoven. However, while the Mozart Mass is a deservedly glorious work, it pales somewhat next to the Beethoven, and for that reason, some listeners may unfairly judge the performance of the Mozart as inferior to its more grandiose coupling, the Beethoven. What Telarc should have done was to issue the Mozart alone and couple the Beethoven Missa Solemnis with the earlier Mass in C (previously recorded by Telarc but could have been reissued as a set!).
Still, this is perhaps a minor quibble to one of the finest choral re-
cordings in recent memory by this country's preeminent choral conductor. That the recording is now available at a new lower price is
even more reason to rejoice.
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