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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mass is a massive triumph!, 25 Sep 2009
By 
Mr. R. N. Leach (Suffolk UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (Audio CD)
Mass is an extraordinary and unique work which resulted from a request from Jacqueline Onassis to Leonard Bernstein to write something for the opening of the John F Kennedy Centre in Washington in 1971. Bernstein took the words of the Roman Catholic Latin Mass as his starting point. However, instead of simply setting the words of the mass, as countless composers have done before and since, Bernstein interpolated reactions to and against the mass. The additional words were written by Bernstein himself and Stephen Schwartz, the lyricist of Godspell, with a few extra lines coming from singer/songwriter Paul Simon. The result is a drama built round a celebration of the mass rather than a liturgical setting.

The interpolations introduce elements of twentieth century angst and doubt in to the assured certainities of the mass. Indeed the element of doubt and questioning pervades the work until the very end when, in the actual act of communion, Bernstein uses serene and beautiful words and music which bring the work to an end in an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity as if he wants to say that, admidst all the doubts and questions, God is still God and can reach out and touch human beings in transforming ways.

The music is wide ranging and includes rock and blues as well as conventional orchestral writing and solo and choral singing. Parts of the work will sound instantly familiar to anyone who knows West Side Story.

Unusually for Naxos, their booklet includes the full sung and spoken texts but it does not provide any translation of the Latin elements included in the work. The performance, as a result, will be easiest to follow if you know the Latin mass although if you know the mass or a communion service in English you will be able to work out most of what is going on. If you do not, you may want to juggle the text of the mass with the CD booklet.

The preformance on these discs is virtually beyond reproach. The central character, the priest celebrating the mass, is sung by Jubilant (yes, really) Sykes who has a rich and beautiful baritone voice, excellent diction and the ability to act as well as sing his role. All the other sung performances are good although the children's singing sounds a little stressed from time to time. The orchestral playing is excellent too.

Such a vast and sprawling work has the capacity to go very wrong without purposeful, overall direction and fortunately this performance receives this from conductor Marin Alsop - if you've ever wondered if conductors are really necessary, this work should convince you.

Mass is not a particularly easy listen but if you can spare an hour and three quareters to concentrate on it, it will reward you richly.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bernstein's Mass - a Daunting Enterprise, 11 Nov 2009
This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (Audio CD)
What to say about this: Two recordings of Leonard Bernstein's controversial and demanding mass in the same year, and both of them remarkably good recordings? A miracle, as is this mass, this explosion of church music innovations! After Kristian Järvi's rightly praised Chandos recording comes Marin Alsop's Baltimore performance, expectantly awaited, as she is the pupil and apprentice to that great master Bernstein and has declared that she considers The Mass to be his greatest masterpiece and one of the great musical works of our time.
Is there a difference between the two recordings? I was surprised to find that the Chandos recording made such a strong religious impact on me as it did, even after the third listening, whereas the Naxos one made an overwhelming impression of artistic perfection and power of empathy. Maybe a very subjective point of view, but it was a lasting feeling. The somewhat rude and direct intensity Järvi is bringing about meets a much more disciplined and stringent interpretation from Alsop. Both ways of mediating the work are very appealing.
In fact, Bernstein's Mass must be an extremely daunting enterprise to record, and all the performers of these recordings must be highly praised for an extraordinarily successful result, brilliantly rendering all those shifts between more serious music and pop and blues music, singing in English, Latin and even Hebrew! The Naxos recording accomplishes this jumble of styles in a most distinguished and vital way and makes them co-operate and turn into a meaningful totality. Jubilant Sykes is an exuberant Celebrant (as is Randall Scarlata on Chandos), especially in the fifteen minutes long final monologue after having crashed the chalice and letting the communion wine flow out, causing his religious crisis. For all the other solo parts, Morgan State University Choir and Peabody Children Choir make a glorious teamwork, showing their big range of capacity for this type of works. And the peaceful, mysterious character of the end of the work is serenely rendered, completing the mass in profound consummation.
Triumphal - I think that is the right word for Marin Alsop's superbly authoritative interpretation of Bernstein's Mass. It has the cachet of perfection. So if you won't buy both these recordings - what is much to recommend - you will never regret choosing this one for its aesthetic distinction and its intimate understanding of what Leonard Bernstein had in view, when composing such an extremely original work of religious music. When the mass will be more generally accepted by the public taste, this recording must be highly honored for having made a daunting enterprise a beloved mass for our time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alsop's Bernstein, 15 Sep 2011
By 
RR Waller "ISeneca" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (Audio CD)
Alsop was a student of Bernstein's and obviously adored him; he was a natural and born teacher who inspired all that met him, either through his educational broadcasts, Tanglewood or his concerts. I have been fortunate enough to attend an Alsop theatrical performance of "Mass" as well as a day's tutorial from her and she know her composer and the music well. On the podium, although she rarely does, I suspect she would like to leap as high as he did but restrains herself, perhaps unwilling to be seen to have been so deeply influenced.

"Mass" was commissioned by Jacqueline Onassis for the opening of the John F Kennedy Centre. It is a unique theatrical piece which took the audience by surprise. Despite its title, it is not a conventional Latin mass; Bernstein Bernsteined it and it emerges as a personal struggle during the celebration of the Mass, a celebration which must have shaken the front rows to their foundations. Words by Bernstein, Stephen Scwartz and some by Paul Simon, the music is all Bernstein

There is little, if anything for which to criticise Alsop, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the cast in this excellent recording. Although the visual drama (of which there should be a great deal) is missing on the double CD set, Alsop gives a performance of which Bernstein would have approved.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mass is Marvellous, 26 Oct 2009
By 
This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (Audio CD)
What a glorious melting pot of musical styles is 'Mass'! Brass band, lounge music, pop, blues, rock, Middle Eastern, symphonic. Add instruments such as electric guitar, bongos, kazoos and a sizeable array of percussion to the standard orchestral strings and you have a heady mix.

'Mass's libretto uses sacred and secular texts; typical examples of the latter are: "I believe in F sharp, I believe in G" or "here I go up to the altar of God. In I go, up I go". Quite.

So, forget the, at times, risible secular texts; it's the music in 'Mass' that matters and what wonderful music it is: catchy, rhythmic, spine tingling, uplifting, soothing. The words sit on the music so well, the syllables hugging the notes. Two of my favourite sections are 'Sing God a simple song' (1:2), a beautiful piece for strings, harp and flute and 'I believe in God' (1:24).

The performances and recording are first rate. Jubilant Sykes as the Celebrant has a wonderful voice, pitch perfect, and phrases his words well.

There are baritone and soprano soloists whose contributions are equally valuable, but, shamefully, they are uncredited in the accompanying booklet. For this reason, I have docked one star, otherwise this would have been a five star review.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Bernstein Mass, 21 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (Audio CD)
I selected a piece of music which I wanted to hear and the recording did not disappoint me. Packaging etc by Amazon was good as usual.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Reviw of Bernstein Mass, 9 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (Audio CD)
This is an extraordinary work. So very Bernstein and great to listen to. I highly recommend it to all my musical friends.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Feisty and melodic, 26 Sep 2009
By 
This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (Audio CD)
I purchased this following hearing some on Radio 3. Whilst I adore the composition and Alsops interpretation, I find the voice of the Celebrant quite annoying. Agreed that technically marvellous, his interpretation and use of vocal nuances become repetitive and finally irritating. Some of the singing by others is also flat. I am still not convinced we have heard the best version of this Mass. I await that moment. Great energy though and the music entirely engaging.
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Bernstein: Mass by Jubilant Sykes (Audio CD - 2009)
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