In these mostly unaccompanied Irish folk songs, Robert Shaw is freed from the concerns of an orchestral accompaniment and able to focus on refined choral singing, showcasing why he will be remembered as one of the great choral conductors of all time. A well-blended choir often sounds thin; a full-voiced choir, as in the wobble-fest of many an opera chorus, rarely blends. Shaw's chorale, however, here displays the full-voiced and beautifully blended singing that was its hallmark, and Alice Parker's arrangements go far to celebrate this ensemble's strengths.
The artful mixing of a pure Irish-tenor sound with a resonant bass sound makes "Avenging and Bright" one of this disc's high points. In "Johnny, I Hardly Knew You," the whole rich palette of the chorale's sounds combine to create a stirring, carefully paced dramatic tableau. In several of the selections, Parker incorporates the Irish harp to gentle, inobtrusive effect, nowhere more affectingly than in "My Gentle Harp" (sung to the tune of "Londonderry Air"). Of the several fine soloists heard on this recording, Raymond Murcell stands out for his exceptionally attractive solo in the rollicking drinking song, "To Ladies' Eyes."
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