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BERNSTEIN, L.: Mass (Sykes, Wulfman, Morgan State University Choir, Peabody Children's Chorus, Baltimore Symphony, Alsop)

Composer(s):Bernstein, Leonard
Period(s) 20th Century
Genre Classical Music
Category Choral - Sacred
Catalogue 8.559622-23
Label Naxos
Quality   320kbps
Download and Stream

When Leonard Bernstein was asked by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to compose the inaugural work for the opening of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., he wrote: “The Mass is also an extremely dramatic event in itself—it even suggests a theater work.” Premiered on September 8, 1971, with additional words by Stephen Schwartz of Godspell fame, Mass is a remarkable, visionary work with a kaleidoscope of musical styles that touches on themes of political protest, existential crisis and religious faith lost and found.

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Review By Record Geijutsu,October 2011

8.559622-23_The Record Geijutsu_102011_ja.pdf

Review By Gramophone,October 2010

…the premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass was one of the most controversial of all music debuts. Audience members rushed to carp (it was “derivative, attitudinising drivel” according to the prominent critic John Simon), or clap, with the Washington Post’s Paul Hume calling it “the greatest music Bernstein has written”. To his dying day Bernstein himself felt it to be among the most important things he had done (it’s worth recalling again his reaction to Gramophone critic Edward Seckerson’s suggestion to him that the Mass was “seminal”—“A critic’s word,” he replied, “but I might just kiss you on the lips for saying it!”). Now public opinion has caught up

As one of Bernstein’s last students, Alsop has tirelessly evangelised for this work. She understands it better than almost anyone, telling Seckerson in this magazine last year, “What’s interesting about Mass is just how prophetic it’s turned out to be. All those boundaries between genres, between different styles of music—they’re gone.” As it happened, Alsop’s long-awaited recording of the piece was pipped to the post by another, also fine, recording from Chandos conducted by Kristjan Järvi. But it is the Alsop on Naxos, with her fine Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which to my mind shows the greater understanding of its myriad styles and undergoes the more convincing and coherent dramatic arc. And she is also blessed with a riveting performer in the central role of the Celebrant—the aptly named Jubilant Sykes. He throws himself into the performance heart, soul and throat (there are times indeed when one fears for his vocal health, such is his no-holds-barred level of commitment).

So we finally have a worthy successor to Bernstein’s own recording. “[Alsop creates] a dramatic slipstream that is powered relentlessly onwards by the awkward discontinuities and jagged narrative…go tell it on the mountain”, wrote Philip Clark in his review. Power—emotional, musical—is the word.


Review By Graham Strahle,The Weekend Australian,December 2009


Review By Jed Distler,Gramophone,December 2009

Since there’s something in Leonard Bernstein’s Mass for everyone (classical, pop, gospel, jazz, atonality, lyrics both clever and sappy, rhythms both languid and snappy), it makes sense to give a gift that might well please all, and, in Marin Alsop’s standard-setting recording, pleases me no end.

Review By Peter Aczel,The Audio Critic,November 2009

All in all, I can’t imagine a more resplendent performance than the Alsop/Baltimore, and the audio is also state-of-the art, with tremendous dynamic range, majestic bass, great transparency, and wonderful three-dimensionality.

Review By Steven Suskin,Playbill,October 2009

It’s always a pleasure to find a new CD that I can wholeheartedly endorse, and here we have one that is indispensable: Marin Alsop’s recording of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. Bernstein’s so-called “Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers” purposely crossed genres, as a result of which it has always resided somewhere outside the musical theatre classification. And as a result of which, many fans of musical theatre—and fans of Bernstein as well—have more or less overlooked it. Imagine, another score to keep on the shelf alongside West Side Story and Candide—and many Bernstein fans don’t know it? That has been the fate of Mass, alas; Bernstein’s excellent 1971 recording of the score has

Mass, of course, is the piece that was commissioned by Jacqueline Onassis in 1966 for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The grand premiere at the Opera House on Sept. 8, 1971, just across the street from the Watergate, arrived under storm clouds; Bernstein’s pop-rock, anti-war version of a Catholic mass contained elements seemingly designed to offend anyone over 30 who wasn’t exceedingly liberal. Certainly, the President who inherited it—Mr Nixon—must have seen it as an enormous stick poked in his eye (although he apparently stayed away from the 12-performance engagement). “O you people of power, your hour is now, you may plan to rule forever, but you never do somehow”; this might have been seen as a direct joust in those pre-Watergate days. Mass, which was directed by Gordon Davidson and choreographed by Alvin Ailey, then moved on to a three-week stint at the Metropolitan Opera House. Too big for a Broadway theatre, with almost 250 performers and musicians, but not exactly welcome in higher-brow environs. That turned out to be the fate of the piece.

Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, knows Bernstein well; a protégé of the master, she has had considerable success with his work. As a major keeper of the flame, she undertook a grand concert version of Mass last October (her fifth time conducting the piece). This traveled to Carnegie Hall as part of last fall’s Bernstein Festival; the performance on Oct. 24 was decidedly a highlight of my entire theatregoing season.

Ms Alsop does a phenomenal job; she has clearly studied Bernstein’s recording, and effortlessly inhabits the score. But she enhances the piece; certain tempos armore....

Review By ,Rheinische Post,September 2009



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