The Essential Mormon Tabernacle Choir – The Mormon Tabernacle Choir / Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Utah Symphony Orchestra, and The Philadelphia Orchestra – Sony Classical (2 CDs)

by | Oct 18, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

The Essential Mormon Tabernacle Choir – The Mormon Tabernacle Choir / Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Utah Symphony Orchestra, and The Philadelphia Orchestra/  Richard Condie, Arthur Harris, Eugene Ormandy, Jerold D. Ottley, and Michael Tilson Thomas, conductors – Sony Classical 680317 (2 discs) 66 min., 72 min. ****:

Founded in 1947, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one of the great choral institutions of the United States.  This 360-voice community chorus produces a sound that envelops the listener in a blanket of sheer power and majesty.  Their current conductor, Craig Jessup, came to this group from The United States Air Force Singing Sergeants; and he is the latest in a long line of distinguished conductors of this outstanding example of what an amateur chorus can be. I’m only sorry that none of his work was included in this recording.  For those of you that have never had the opportunity to listen to a live performance of this group, this CD presents a reasonable substitute for that.

The recording contains a compilation of performances dating from 1958-1980.  This is definitely an air of nostalgia to this collection, in the sound of the recordings, the format of the choral arrangements, and the tone and balance of the ensemble itself.  Those who prefer a more recent interpretation of choral classics might view this recording as a sepia-colored souvenir of times gone by. The sopranos possess a sound that lets their natural vibrato come through, occasionally to the point of interfering with the overall pitch of the section.  This is no English boy choir sound here.  The basses do not supply the booming bottom of the chord that is often heard in other ensembles; but they do present a dependable sound that is a compliment to the rest of the ensemble.  The tenors are sweetly present, and the altos are lovely and reassuring in their solid contribution to the total sound. The balance between the voices is equal throughout.  Although I almost would have wished for a bit more on the top or the bottom at times, I recognize that the musical decisions were made in another time and another place, as a result of the prevailing wisdom of the time regarding choral and orchestral balance and what would sound right to the listeners of “America’s Choir.”

Despite all of my above disclaimers, I must say that this recording gave me a fond sense of reassurance and genuine enjoyment.  The songs contained in this recording range from Broadway classics like “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” and “Seventy-Six Trombones” to a medley of Disney tunes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, to more classically oriented but still familiar selections such as “Art Thou With Me” (“Bist du bei mir” sung, surprisingly, in English). And of course, this compilation would not be complete without some well-known and loved religious selections like “Simple Gifts” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” their 1959 Grammy-winning release with The Philadelphia Orchestra.  The selections are choral gems that deserve repeated hearing and serve to remind the listeners of the value of tradition and honor in music.  The tradition comes from the many years this choir has served the Mormon community as well as our country, and the honor comes from the obvious care with which these particular songs were selected, recorded, and preserved for today’s listeners. Although I cannot sing in this choir (and I would love to have been able to share this experience) I am still proud and awed by the sheer magnitude of their musical contribution to our country and the world. 

Tracks, CD 1: The Sound of Music, Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’, Born Free, He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands, Goin’ Home, All Through The Night, Londonderry Air, Seventy-Six Trombones, Art Thou With Me, Simple Gifts, Battle Hymn of the Republic, The Lord’s Prayer, Bless This House, Ave Maria, Medley from Pinocchio, When You Wish Upon A Star, Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee, An Actor’s Life for Me, The Impossible Dream, Over the Rainbow, Medley from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Climb Ev’ry Mountain, Somewhere, Oklahoma!, You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Tracks, CD 2: Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore, Heavenly Father!, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, Holy Art Thou, Loch Lomond, None But the Lonely Heart, The Lost Chord, Nearer My God To Thee, I’ll See You In My Dreams, Smilin’ Through, Medley (Pretty Baby, You Are My Sunshine, Avalon), I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now, The Anniversary Song, It’s A Grand Night For Singing, My Favorite Things, The White Cliffs of Dover, It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperrary, Allegro assai vivace. Alla Marcia.

– Ann Stahmer

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