Brett Stewart’s 5 Top Album Favorites

By: Brett Stewart

The Last 5 of Our Favorite Things

1. Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 – “Pathetique;” Leonard Bernstein & New York Philharmonic On iTunes
Anything by Tchaikovsky is Godly, and the sixth symphony is without a doubt the inspiration for infinite composers and compositions that followed. I listen to Tchaikovsky whenever I need inspiration as a composer. Just listen to the 3rd movement (Allegro Molto Vivace) and tell me John Williams didn’t know this piece well when he composed the Star Wars and Superman theme songs!

2. Brahms Symphony No.3; Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Daniel Barenboim On iTunes
I love movie scores, and Brahms was a movie score composer before movies even existed. Brahms symphonies are Sunday music listening for my family. The music is so picturesque that I close my eyes and I am transported to a multitude of beautiful places. The 3rd symphony movements 2 and 3 are particularly haunting.

3. Amadeus: The Complete Original Soundtrack Recording; Sir Neville Marriner & St. Martin-in-the-Fields On iTunes
Like I said, I love movie scores. This soundtrack is entirely the music of Mozart, and Mozart was the stand-alone composer of his time (in my mind) that understood how to really compose a melody – one that can make you weep. Many of the great Mozart compositions are on this soundtrack, so it’s a great collection to have!

4. The Spirituals of William L. Dawson; Anton Armstrong & The St. Olaf Choir On iTunes
African-American spirituals are one of my favorite genres of choral music, and The St. Olaf Choir is one of my favorite choral sounds. How can I not love this album?!

5. The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 6 – Dohnanyi On iTunes
This is actually one of the top 3 cherished albums I have ever purchased. Dohnanyi, that contemporary composer still lost in the Romantic era, just speaks my exact musical language (or I speak his!). I am enchanted by the 2nd piano concerto. Haunting, beautiful, uniquely contemporary music with a refusal to give up the best of what Romanticism had to offer.

Cherilyn Worthen’s Top 5 Album Favorites

By: Cherilyn Worthen

Even More of Our Favorite Things

1. Simple Gifts: The King’s Singers On iTunes

I have always admired The Kings Singers for impeccable ensemble precision, exacting intonation, and the ability to perform all musical styles in a choral context. I heard them perform some of these pieces live before I bought the actual album and especially loved the variety of folk, popular, and choral classics in this particular combination. The album is short, but I never get tired of it. I love the haunting “Valparaiso” melody and the fresh arrangement of Simple Gifts. Anything Kings Singers is always high quality.

2. Vaughan Williams: Dona nobis pacem: Corydon Singers & Matthew Best
On iTunes

I adore Vaughn Williams and have always loved the “Dona Nobis Pacem”. I love the historical context, the libretto, the dramatic orchestration, and so many choral moments in this work. This album also has other Vaughn Williams favorites to enjoy.

3. Chanticleer: Out of This World On iTunes

Chanticleer is another smaller ensemble with such impeccable choral production. This particular album contains a wide variety of selections–everything from Irving Berlin to Thomas Tallis. High quality presentation and includes a variety of colors and styles.

4. Christmas with the Dale Warland Singers On Amazon
I love the detail work and the line present in the Dale Warland Singers recording. I also love the programming on the album and the intimacy of this particular recording. Feels like they’re singing just to you!

5. O Yule Full of Gladness: The St. Olaf Choir On Amazon
I will never admit that I have a “fixed” top 5 list, but I always enjoy St. Olaf–and especially for Christmas music. “My Song in the Night” is one of my favorite choral pieces from their choral tradition. I also love “Water Under Snow is Weary” for its simplicity. And as a singer, have always loved performing the spiritual “I Believe This is Jesus.”

Cory Mendenhall’s Top 5 Album Favorites

By: Cory Mendenhall

A Few More of Our Favorite Things

1. Gustav Holst: The Planets: London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus On iTunes

This orchestral suite is, in my opinion, Holst’s finest instrumental work. I love listening to this suite on long drives, or when working marathon days in my classroom. The distinctly memorable and noble tune found in the fourth movement, “Jupiter,” is arguably one of the world’s most profound melodies.

2. Anton Bruckner: Os Justi: found on track 12 of Eventide by voces8 On iTunes
I love the chain of suspensions found in this beautiful motet, featuring compelling patterns of dissonance and resolution. The text talks of an immovable, stalwart resolve, taken from one of my favorite passages found in Psalms 37:30-31: “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just. The law of God is in his heart, and his feet do not falter.” I also appreciate Bruckner’s appreciation of, and subscription to the Cecilian Movement…a movement in choral music during Bruckner’s time (1896) which supported reform and restoration of Renaissance polyphony and Gregorian Chant…certainly the foundation of all compelling choral music we enjoy today.

3. Bach: St. Matthew Passion: English Baroque Soloists, John Elliot Gardiner & monteverdi Choir On iTunes
listen to this work each year at Easter time. Emotionally dramatic, and deeply powerful.

4. O Magnum Mysterium, Morten Lauridsen: found on track 7 of The Dale Warland Singers: Lux Arumque album On iTunes
One of my favorite settings of this beautifully poignant text: “O great mystery and wonderful sacrament that even the animals saw the new-born Lord lying in a manger.” I have had some wonderful experiences as both a singer and conductor of this piece.

5. Durufle: Requiem: found on “Faure: Requiem & Durufle: Requiem,” Atlanta Symphony Chorus, Atlanta Symphony, Robert Shaw On iTunes
As a choral musician and organist, this work is one of my favorites which I feel captures the essence of effective registration specific to both voice and the organ. This is one of my most favorite meditative works!

Brandon Stewart’s Top 5 Album Favorites

By: Brandon Stewart

A Few of Our Favorite Things!

I love working with our little four year olds, youth, teens, and adults in MCO. It brings me so much joy to see their lives lifted by quality, spiritual music. As I regularly observe thousands of MCO participants in 4 states, one of the things I love to do is take quick polls in rehearsal. I ask a simple question relating to classical or sacred music, and by the raise of hands I evaluate where the group stands. Consider that this is nearly 2,500 people in the western U.S. – that’s a pretty good focus group. As I’ve performed these “quick polls” for many years now, I have noticed a general decrease in awareness and interest in classical music.

A quick look at the iTunes “Top Songs” list will reveal a musical palette of Taylor Swift, Slipknot, Maroon 5, Nicki Manaj, and Sam Smith. Not to say my family and I don’t enjoy a great Taylor Swift hit once in a while – we do! I think there is a place for different styles of music. But where is Rachmaninoff, Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, and Mendelssohn? Where is Eric Whitacre, the Dale Warland Singers, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?

It is my opinion that in our 2014 world of technology and instant gratification, many don’t possess the patience to become immersed in the glorious, celestial sounds of the “music of the masters.” If you look at any top selling album right now you will be hard-pressed to find a track longer than 4 minutes. Most classical songs are way longer than that, requiring enough time to take the listener on a spiritual and emotional journey. It might require two or three times before one “gets it,” kind of like studying Shakespeare, van Gogh, or any other master of art. In the wise words of Gordon B. Hinckley, “Enjoy music. Not the kind that rocks and rolls, but the music of the masters, the music that has lived through the centuries, the music that has lifted people. If you do not have a taste for it, listen to it thoughtfully. If you do not like it the first time, listen to it again and again.” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 395-6)

One question that regularly crosses my desk is, “What are the best classical/choral albums I should be downloading for my family and me to listen to?” Well, here we go! In the coming blog posts we will include each conductor’s top 5 albums, with a description (in their own words) of their selections. Some of these albums or songs are available for free on YouTube. They can also be downloaded for a very reasonable price on iTunes, Amazon, etc. To begin, here are my TOP 5. Enjoy!

Brandon Stewart’s Top 5 Album Favorites

1. Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3: Esa-Pekka Salonen, Philharmonia Orchestra & Yefim Bronfman On iTunes
I have a passion for piano concertos. The 2nd and 3rd piano concertos of Rachmaninoff, nicknamed the “Rach 2” and “Rach 3,” are two of the most complex, emotionally and technically demanding, dramatic, and sublime concertos in the literature. Rachmaninoff had abnormally large hands which made his composing for the piano treacherous for the rest of us. I’ve experienced many a bleeding finger while practicing these beastly pieces! There is nothing in the world like hearing or performing one of these two concertos live in a great concert hall. The gorgeous “Rach 2” and “Rach 3” melodies are constantly floating around in my head. They are infectious.

2. A Cappella: Robert Shaw & Robert Shaw Festival Singers & Atlanta Symphony Chorus On iTunes
This album is, in my opinion, one of the finest displays of choral sound in recording history. I love the depth, smoothness, and blend, especially on Svete Tikhyi (track 9).

3. Bach: Toccatas: Angela Hewitt On iTunes
Whenever I clean my office, I listen to Bach. This album cleanses my mind. Bach keyboard music is a purifier. Maybe it’s because he was composing music for Church services every week, but I always feel like Bach’s music connects me with God.

4. Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone On iTunes
My favorite elegant/romantic album, particularly track 18 (The Lady Caliph: Dinner). Oh, if we could all live life the way Yo-Yo Ma plays his cello. This music really makes me feel something!

5. Consider the Lilies: Mormon Tabernacle Choir On iTunes
The Tabernacle Choir is filling the Stewart home on most Sunday mornings, a tradition taught to me by my mother. This particular album is, in my opinion, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s finest display of sound, emotion, phrasing, programming, and praise of God. I particularly love the passion and testimony captured in tracks 13 (I Believe in Christ) & 14 (God So Loved the World). I also carry a special place in my soul for track 11, Mack Wilberg’s original composition, “Jesu, the Very Thought Is Sweet.” It has carried me through some tough times in my life.