AudioNautes Reissues Chesky Classic O Magnum Mysterium

What better time than now for the all-analog resurrection of this Chesky classic? Easter is three weeks away (though “Oh Great Mystery” is really about Christmas) and home lock down in a dreary time is here now.

O Magnum Mysterium is a mesmerizing, transportive album of sacred music for mixed choir and organ performed by the 25 men and women of the Westminster Choir accompanied by organist Nancianne Parrella, conducted by Joseph Flummerfelt.

Recording engineer Bob Katz captured the performance in St. Mary’s The Virgin Cathedral, New York City, July 30th-August 1st 1992 using a stereo AKG C-24 tube microphone “…placed on a high boom 30 feet in the air and about 40 feet out in front of the choir”, according to David Chesky’s jacket notes. The choir was in the loft at the far end of the church, about 20 feet in the air. You will be in the church when you listen.

The 9 pieces, including 3 titled “O Magnum Mysterium”, range in length from a 1:42 “O Magnum” composed in 1960 by Peter Maxwell Davies, to Brahms’ 5:07 “Geistliches Lied” composed in 1856, listed here as “Lass dich nur nichts nicht dauren” (Do not be sorrowful or regretful), which is the text written by Paul Flemming in the 1600s.

In between are pieces by Mozart, Bruckner, Poulenc, William Byrd and others; music inspired by Christian Eucharistic and celebratory texts. For agnostics and atheists the good news is that it’s all sung in Latin so you can get swept away by the music’s inspiring beauty (and you will) without having to put up with the Hosannas.

On the other hand, the lyrics to “Geistliches Lied” are particularly applicable to all—even atheists and agnostics— in today’s agitated world:

Do not be sorrowful or regretful;
Be calm, as God has ordained,
and thus my will shall be content.
What do you want to worry about from day to day?
There is One who stands above all
who gives you, too, what is yours.
Only be steadfast in all you do,
stand firm; what God has decided,
that is and must be the best.

With this recording the word “transparent” takes on new meaning. Your system will disappear leaving a choir hovering three-dimensionally in space. Seriously.

Chesky originally issued this in 1993 on both vinyl (CR83) and CD (CD83), but I’ve heard neither. However, I suspect this reissue will top the original.

Chesky Records supplied to Scott Hull at Masterdisk the original 2 track master tape. He cut it directly from the tape, which used no noise reduction, equalization, compression or limiting. That was true of the lacquer mastering as well (of course it uses RIAA equalization but that’s all). Pallas pressed it and the result is a dead-quiet record.

If this record doesn’t sound as I’ve described it, it’s your system’s fault! Available from Acoustic Sounds.

BTW: if you appreciate choral music and have streaming access check out Eriks Esenvald's The Doors of Heaven performed by the Portland State Chamber Orchestra. Stereophile's John Atkinson engineered it as well as a new one about to be released, both on Naxos.

RinziRadio's picture

Thanks so much for this -- I did not know it. Have added to my list!! I have been listening to the Doors of Heaven since hearing it in the background of your interview video. It's marvelous. I know covering new releases of classical music isn't strictly part of your remit, but the fact is right now is a golden age of classical recording, with dozens of superb new releases recorded in excellent sound (though mainly on CD and SACD). Combined with the top-notch classical reissues on vinyl it's getting really hard to decide what portion of one's music budget gets spent where. I know you somewhat talk down your own knowledge of classical music, but I always learn something when you post about classical music. I am hoping that during this "down time" we might get your favorite classical reissues on vinyl, plus maybe the occasional glimpse into the classical records in your collection that you highly prize.

John Atkinson's picture
The new album Michael mentioned, "Translations" from the Portland State Chamber Choir (not Orchestra), conducted by Ethan Sperry, was released earlier this week and can be found at as well as on Spotify and Amazon Music.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Jenn's picture

...this recording would no doubt also include Morten Lauridsen's wonderful setting from 1994. It has become basic repertoire.

monty_phd's picture

The sound and the quality of the performances were exactly as described. Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful record.