No one knew when Robert Shaw made this recording in November, 1999, that it would not only be a crowning personal achievement for the conductor and his Atlanta musicians, but also would stand as a final and fitting memorial to the work of one of this century's finest and most influential conductors. Shaw's death from a stroke three months after the sessions assured that this last recording would get extra attention, primarily viewed through a lens of reverence, respect, and retrospection.
Robert Shaw's reading of the B Minor Mass is, in one sense at least, just what one would expect: sober and purposeful, beautifully shaped (Shaw is a master architect), it centers on the chorus. Like all of Shaw's choruses, the Atlanta group has that trademark richness of body and blend, and it sings with utter unanimity as though it were one great voice. Shaw opts for marginally broader tempos than those found in most period-instrument performances but is nowhere near as glacial as some interpreters.
Jennifer Higdon is a masterful colorist whose music is immediately appealing, full of energy and dash, but also with lyrical movements that grab you and hold your interest with their variety and melodic freshness. She can be brassy and bold like William Schuman and lushly Romantic like Samuel Barber, to mention just two American predecessors her music calls to mind. She also has a strong profile of her own, as we hear in City Scapes, a musical portrait of Atlanta that captures the bustle of a metropolis on the move. It's centerpiece, "river sings a song to trees," is wonderfully paced and engrossing. Concerto for Orchestra is a grand workout for a virtuoso band, teeming with solo turns that can tax all but the best musicians, and passages that spotlight sections of the orchestra with opportunities to strut their stuff. It's a brilliant piece brilliantly played by the Atlantans. Add Telarc's usual terrific sound and this disc becomes a must for fans of accessible modern music.
Carl Orff's Stravinskian rabble-rouser retains its appeal. The pagan high-jinks, driving rhythms, and dips into semi-hysteria can be irresistible given the right performance. And, of course, with its dynamic range, from delicately colored quiet passages to heaven-storming climaxes, it's tailor-made for showing off hi-fi systems. Telarc is known for its outstanding sound, and this one's well up to the house standards.
Itaipu (1989) is something of a cantata-cum-symphony-cum-oratorio with no clear text. Its topic is the world's largest hydroelectric dam, built on the Rarana River between Paraguay and Brazil, and the piece–in Glass's trademark punctuating minimalism–is filled with distinct South American instrumentation, particularly in the percussion. The music itself is noble, conjuring the human endeavor to build the five-mile-wide dam near the town of Itaipu. The Canyon (1988) is about no canyon in particular but tonally suggests the mystery of canyons in general. Both these compositions are among Glass's better works.
This is the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conducted by Louis Lane 'Respighi: Pines of Rome; The Birds; Fountains of Rome' released on Telarc Records in 1985.
This is the premiere recording release of The Atlanta Symphony under the baton of their new Music Director, Yoel Levi, who was formerly Assistant Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra.
Yoel Levi’s Mahler has been a mixed bag: marvelous versions of Symphonies Nos. 4 and 6, a good but not great No. 1, and a dull 5 and 7. The Second is one of the great ones, though, a performance of the type that Bruno Walter or George Szell would have appreciated. It will not appeal to those who need their Mahler to sweat blood, and Levi is not the kind of conductor who makes his interpretive points through attention-getting tempo adjustments and exaggerated string portamentos. Rather, his personal touch reveals itself in scrupulous attention to dynamics, care with instrumental balances, and finely honed ensemble. Such an approach always risks blandness, if only because the result can sound effortless just when the music needs to express tension and a sense of strain; but when it works, as here, it can offer more sheer musical satisfaction and staying power than many more demonstrative efforts.