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Robert Spano, who recently completed his inaugural season as Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, won widespread acclaim for his first Telarc recording with the ASO, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade and Russian Easter Overture (CD-80568), termed by one critic "the best rendition of [Scheherazade] to come around in years...I can't imagine a more distinguished or appealing first release." Here he leads the ASO and Chorus in a breathtaking performance of the monumental Sea Symphony by Vaughan Williams, with gifted soloists Christine Goerke, soprano, and Brett Polegato, baritone. A Sea Symphony, produced by Thomas C. Moore, won three GRAMMY Awards in 2003 for Best Classical Album, Best Choral Performance and Best Engineered Album (Michael Bishop, engineer).
A Sea Symphony, Vaughan Williams' epic setting of texts by American poet Walt Whitman, was his first and hardest-won symphonic work. As an organist and choir director himself, Vaughan Williams was confident of his writing ability for chorus, but he was unsure of his competence in the orchestral arena. He worked with composer Maurice Ravel in Paris for three months before he felt able to complete A Sea Symphony. It quickly established him as the foremost English composer of his generation. A Sea Symphony is a true choral symphony—the chorus is used more often in it than in Mahler's Eighth Symphony, which was premiered in the same year (1910). The symphony is in four movements: "A Song for All Seas, All Ships;" "On the Beach at Night, Alone;" "Scherzo: The Waves;" and the final, majestic movement, "The Explorers."
The late ASO Music Director Emeritus Robert Shaw never performed A Sea Symphony with the Atlanta forces. It was at the suggestion of one of the members of the ASO Chorus that Robert Spano decided to consider the work for a concert program that would be recorded by Telarc. "I was immediately struck by the work's power and grandeur," said Spano. "It is at once a symphony and an oratorio, and operatic in scope and theatricality. Vaughan Williams loved the poetry of Walt Whitman, and his settings of these magnificent texts manifest that love in their passion and sweep," he said. This is the first contemporary recording of a Vaughan Williams symphony to feature an American ensemble led by an American conductor.
Young Canadian baritone Brett Polegato has already appeared on distinguished stages in numerous countries, including those of Lincoln Center, La Scala, the Concertgebouw, the Royal Court Theatre of Versailles, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, the Tchaikovsky Conservatory, and Carnegie Hall. He made his La Scala debut as Ned Keene in Peter Grimes and his Chicago Lyric Opera debut the previous season in Mourning Becomes Electra. His other recordings include Gluck's Armide on Deutsche Grammophon's Archiv label, selected by Opera News as one of the five best opera recordings of 1999.
Radiant soprano Christine Goerke was the recipient of the 2001 Richard Tucker Award. She has also been honored with the ARIA and George London Awards, and in 1997 won the prestigious Birgit Nilsson Prize. She garnered enormous international acclaim for her performance as Iphigenie on Telarc CD-80546, Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride, with Boston Baroque and Martin Pearlman.
As the Director of Choruses for the ASO, Norman McKenzie was chosen to help carry forward the creative vision of legendary founding conductor Robert Shaw to a new generation of music lovers. Since its founding by Shaw in 1970, the ASO Chorus has been composed entirely of volunteers, who meet weekly for rehearsals and perform with the ASO several times each season.
Recordings by the ASO Chorus that have won Grammy Awards for Best Choral Performance include the Berlioz Requiem, Hindmith's When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, the Verdi Requiem, Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, Harmonium by John Adams paired with The Bells by Rachmaninoff, and a disc of choral masterpieces by Barber, Bartok, and Vaughan Williams.