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Great Baroque Choral Music
on October 23, 2005
This is the difinitive recording of Vivaldi's Gloria and Bach's Magnificat on modern instruments. Not but 50 years ago (when period performances were nearly non-existent) choirs like the Roger Wagner Chorale were butchering these works. Robert Shaw comes along and performs Handel's Messiah like nobody's ever heard, with lively tempos and light articulation; finally scholarship and performance practice catch up to what we have today.
The Works: On this disk are two very different works. The Vivaldi is evocative of the Italian singing tradition. Flowing melodies and voice writing, both with conjunct motion, simple harmonies over the typical Baroque perpetual motion. The Bach, on the other hand, is from the later German school. Vocal and instrumental parts are extremely virtuosic, and the separate movements use more variety in orchestration and texture.
The Performers: While using modern transverse flutes, winds, piccolo trumpets, and strings, the sound has a modern fullness (Shaw still pares down the Atlanta Symphony), but it is taut with proper Baroque articulation. The organ and bass continuo are very good at what they do. The ensemble comes across crisp and clear. The soloists are dynamite; they have read up on their vocal performance practices (without going overboard) and perform with style and intelligence. The Atlanta Chamber Chorus is also very fine, however it seems, in relation to everyone else, they are singing in a bathroom; still well performed.
The Performance: The tempos are moderate considering recent scholarship, but this is still the "mainstream" recording of these miniature masterpieces. Robert Shaw knows the works, knows the style, and know how to get the proper sounds and balances from his ensembles. I suggest owning both a modern and period performance of these works if you really like them, since both are vastly different. For a modern performance, this is the difinitive. For a period performance try the Hogwood or the more revolutionary Rinaldo Alessandrini version on Opus III.