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A Robert Shaw Christmas: Angels on High

4.8 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Audio CD, July 9, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

1997,16 songs

Amazon.com

In this beautifully chosen program of mostly a cappella arrangements, Robert Shaw and the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers deliver the Christmas story in tones of gentle and moving splendor. The carols and sacred settings recorded here are all of an intimate sort, and the rapturous, gently expressive realizations Shaw and his singers give them prove unfailingly appealing. Particularly moving is the newest work on the disc, a setting of "O magnum mysterium" by the American composer Morten Lauridsen. Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria" is another gem, as is the arrangement by Healy Willan of the French carol "What Is This Lovely Fragrance?" The offering includes a pair of chorales from Bach's Christmas Oratorio and two wonderful Christmas works by Benjamin Britten: "A Hymn to the Virgin" and A Ceremony of Carols, both well done, even if the sound of sopranos and altos (rather than boy trebles) in the latter takes some getting used to. --Ted Libbey
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Product Details

  • Performer: Robert Shaw Chamber Singers
  • Conductor: Robert Shaw
  • Composer: Guillaume Costeley, Benjamin Britten, Morten Lauridsen, Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Biebl, et al.
  • Audio CD (July 9, 2006)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Telarc
  • ASIN: B000003D2M
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,798 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
As a musician who has both conducted and sung several of the pieces on this CD, I truly appreciate what Shaw is able to extract from his singers. Every piece shows the fine attention to detail that is the hallmark of any Shaw recording. His treatment of the "O Magnum" is spiritual, the piece has become for me one of the true choral masterpieces, and no one can create the sound like Shaw does here. His treatment of the Thompson "Alleluia" is outstanding as well.
Aside from the O Magnum, two other pieces are worth noting: the "Ave Maria" exemplifies what Shaw is able to accomplish with men's voices, almost to the point that you think there has to be some secret that only he knows. Probably the most enjoyable piece for me on the recording is the "What is this lovely fragrance?". Here Shaw takes a very simple, lush carol and transforms it into a work of art, as only he can do.
As one other reviewer stated, I find the inclusion of the Britten to be somewhat strange, as the music of Britten is certainly of a completely different style than the other works on this recording. I will also state that while I find the inclusion strange, I also found the performance of the Britten first rate, as expected.
This collection should be on everyone's list of "must-own" albums, not solely for the Christmas season, but for all year long. Anyone who has not heard this recording need not listen to the online samples, simply purchase and enjoy. Five stars is not enough.
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Format: Audio CD
This is the finest recording of Britten's A Ceremony of Carols I've ever come across, and there are plenty of versions to choose from. The King's College Choir rendition suffers from overstuffed acoustics, a constant with that choir, and their recording of Ceremony of Carols falls short in the requisite rhythmic clarity and intensity. The Christ Church, Oxford version is plodding, and lacks sparkle. Harry Christopher's The Sixteen come close, with marvelous sonics and ecstatic diction, but fall apart in the exacting 'This Little Babe' round with uneven cohesion, and strange stressed notes that ruin the waterfall effect so felicitously construed by Britten. I've not heard Britten's own conducted version, but he scrupulously insisted on boy trebles, and it's difficult if not impossible to conjure a more perfect rendering than the one given here by Shaw and his Chamber Singers. 'This Little Babe' is incomparable in each and all of its rapid fire contours, which is no mean feat. Mezzo-soprano Nanette Soles deserves special mention for incandescent singing on 'That Younge Child". The luminous pacing of 'There is no rose of such virtue' is notable, and to his credit Shaw employs the ecclesiastical pronunciation of the various Latin passages, unlike The Sixteen (and most other English choir recordings of this piece) who insist on an idiomatic British pronunciation of Latin, which offers nothing but distraction. Some will prefer boy treble singers, an attractive option, but for high musical values and the art they inevitably enshrine, it's impossible to be disappointed with this profoundly wrought version of Ceremony of Carols. Bach's 'Break Forth, O beauteous heavenly light' is just right, and I'd not heard 'Heavenly Light' by Aleksandr Kopylov; both are favorable additions to an excellent recording. Recommended.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is an astounding collection! As a choral singer, I'm familiar with and love many of the classic pieces on this CD, and I've never heard them done better! As a Christmas music and classical music lover, I'm delighted by the inspired creativity and imagination shown by selecting these particular pieces. I never would have thought to put them together in one CD, but they work so well together! This is pretty much the very best Christmas CD I've ever heard.
Robert Shaw was a genius at getting exactly the sound he wanted from his groups. Although I've sung and heard sung Randall Thompson's Alleleuia many times before, I've never heard it done with such sensitivity and emotion before. I was stunned by the prayerful, pleading, exultant performance of this piece, and it brought tears to my eyes. O Magnum Mysterium also was done with powerful emotion, reminding me once again how music can touch our hearts and souls.
I wish I could give this recording SIX stars.
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Format: Audio CD
As he has so many times in the past, Robert Shaw has demonstrated that nobody does Christmas better. "A Robert Shaw Christmas: Angels on High" is perhaps his best Christmas recording to date. Never stodgy, always exciting, this recording captures the exuberant joy as well as the deep spirituality inherent in the Christmas event. Right from the start Shaw grabs your heart with the unusually stirring Alice Parker arrangement of "O Come Emmanuel". The lush "Ave Maria" (Franz Biebl) so sensitively done by Shaw's men is both deeply reverent and even hypnotic.
For me, the highlight of the recording is Morten Lauridsen's setting of "O Magnum Mysterium" which has become a classic even as Paul Salamunovich predicted when he and the LA Master Chorale premiered the piece in 1994. Shaw's treatment of this marvelous work is alone worth the price of the CD. Humble, reverent and moving, even the most jaded secular mind could not miss the power and beauty of the mystery of the incarnation, of which this piece so aptly speaks.
I question whether it was best to end the CD with Benjamin Britten's "Ceremony of Carols" but as Shaw is perhaps a choral living legend, I would bow to his judgment.
This CD is yet another jewel in Robert Shaw's crown of choral masterpieces. Let me say with a smile that had it been appropriate and available way back then, along with gold, frankincense and myrrh, the wise men SHOULD have brought this CD. It's that good!
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