Robert Shaw

Brahms: Alto Rhapsody; Nänie; Gesang der Parzen; Schicksalslied

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For fans of mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne and choral director Robert Shaw, this 1988 Telarc disc of Brahms' single-movement works for chorus and orchestra featuring the always popular Alto Rhapsody will be as good as it gets in this world. When this recording was made, Horne was not as young as she used to be, but the accuracy, intensity, and sheer force of her delivery will still be more than enough to thrill her fans. Shaw, on the other hand, was at the peak of his powers in the '80s and his conducting here is strong and masterful. And, of course, trained as it was by Shaw, the dean of American choral conductors, the Atlanta Symphony Chorus is lush in tone, impeccable in technique, and always spot-on in intonation. For fans of Brahms' single-movement works for chorus and orchestra -- the awe-inspiring Gesänge der Parzen (The Song of the Fates), the glorious Nänie (a Roman funeral hymn), the monumental Schicksalslied (The Song of Destiny), and, of course, the melancholy and consoling Alto Rhapsody -- however, this disc may nevertheless be a distinct disappointment. They may find themselves dissatisfied with the orchestral execution by the Atlanta Symphony, by the weak attacks and slack sonorities. They may find themselves discontented by the quite beautiful but resolutely superficial interpretations of Shaw that never touch the bottomless depths that make Brahms' single-movement works for chorus and orchestra the next best thing to Ein Deutsches Requiem. They may even find themselves occasionally disgruntled by Horne's slightly too-wide vibrato, too-heavy tone, and too-loud voice. Anyone who loves the music will have to hear this disc at least once. Telarc's digital sound is rich and lush but possibly too reverberant for some tastes.

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