Monday, December 13, 2010

Robert Shaw's Bach Magnificat

This week I present the first-ever recording of Bach's great Magnificat in D, the Virgin Mary's hymn of praise uttered while pregnant with the Christ Child (Luke 1:46-55).  This features the dean of American choral conductors, Robert Shaw (1916-1999) in one of his earliest recordings.  The chorus is the RCA Victor Chorale; the soloists are Suzanne Freil, soprano; Blanche Thebom, mezzo-soprano; Ernice Lawrence, tenor; and Paul Matthen, bass; and the orchestra is made up of New York musicians including William Vacchiano (of the New York Philharmonic), trumpet; Robert Bloom (of the NBC Symphony), oboe d'amore; and Arthur Lora (also of the NBC Symphony), flute.

Bach: Magnificat in D, BWV 243
Soloists, RCA Victor Chorale and Orchestra conducted by Robert Shaw
Recorded June 18, 1946
RCA Victor set DM-1182, five 10-inch records
Link (FLAC file, 72.59 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 35.29 MB)

It would be impossible to overestimate the influence that Robert Shaw had on American choral singing.  Toscanini famously said, after a 1945 performance of the Beethoven Ninth for which Shaw had trained the chorus, "in Robert Shaw I have at last found the maestro I have been looking for."  Shaw's influence on the musical life of my native city, Atlanta, is also incalculable.  To this day Atlanta is a city with many enthusiastic choral groups.  Shaw was music director of the Atlanta Symphony during my formative years (from 1967, when I was four, to 1988) and his choral concerts with the ASO and the ASO chorus were always big events.  In the spring of 1998 I was fortunate enough to hear one of his last performances, of the Bach B minor Mass.  I was sitting in the front row of Atlanta's Symphony Hall, and from the very start, with that big shout of "KYRIE" from the chorus I was jolted out of my seat, and remained on the edge the entire evening.  A magnificent performance in every way, the fruit of over fifty years of living with this great music.


  1. Thanks Bryan, but I can't seem to find the link...

  2. Beautiful! Nice to compare with the 1948 Jean Gitton version - you wrote this one differs a lot from the Gitton - I'm curious to hear. Thanks a lot!

  3. Bryan,
    Downloading now and very much looking forward to this. (BTW, an oddity: this link appears when I look at your blog in Firefox, but not in Safari. All of your other links have appeared in Safari.)
    Again, many thanks. Sorry for the false alarm.

  4. Hey Bryan,

    A big thank you for this. I like Shaw. When I was in college, Shaw conducted our combined choruses and orchestra in Bach's St Matthew Passion. It was a great nthrill, especially after attending a lecture by him which was very philosophical and spiritual.


  5. Hey Bryan,

    I love the power of the choral contributions here..even at this early stage of Shaw's career, his stamp was firmly placed on this recording. I think this was a good warm up for his excellent RCA recording of the B minor Mass made a number of years later.

    What is striking is how much better trumpeters are today in handling these clarino parts. No doubt that Vacchiano is struggling at times as Mel Broiles did with Gobermann in the Brandenburgs.

    Thanks again,


  6. I have a copy in excellent condition of the Robert Shaw MAGNIFICAT and would like to sell it. I can be contacted at