Here is yet another superb re-issue of recordings
by Robert Shaw, who died in 1999. Shaw was one of the supreme
choral conductors of the 20th century. One distinguishing
feature of a great interpreter is the ability to change the
very nature of the sound produced to match the stylistic requirements
of the music. Well, I have reviewed recently recordings by Shaw
of Britten, Mozart and Beethoven. Here he is now in masterpieces
by Stravinsky and Poulenc, and the most striking thing is the
drier, less opulent sound Shaw was able to draw from his wonderful
Indeed, this version of the Poulenc Gloria made me fall in love with this gorgeous
piece again ... it’s happened several times! Shaw has an unerring
feel for tempo, everything is in its place, and he avoids too
much self-indulgence in the admittedly intensely sensuous slower
sections. Sylvia McNair is an ideal soloist, secure in intonation,
silvery-pure in tone.
The great advantage in Shaw’s approach is
that the stylistic link from the Stravinsky of 1930 to the Poulenc
of thirty years later is felt strongly, though of course the
fundamental aesthetic of the two men was, in truth, miles apart.
I still cherish the Bernstein interpretation from the 1970s,
yet the recorded sound is so much better here that I have to
say that this version is preferable – though I hasten to add
that one cannot reckon without Stravinsky’s own recordings.
Between the two choral pieces comes a very
fine reading of the Poulenc Organ Concerto, perhaps the composer’s
most characteristic masterpiece. Though I think
I discern (reading between the confusing lines of the recording
details) that this is an artificial recording – i.e. with organ
and orchestra in different buildings – it nevertheless works
very well, though there may be listeners who will find Shaw’s
tempi for some of the more expressive sections a little too
slow. Michael Murray is a commanding organ soloist.