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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2000
Leonard Bernstein has never recieved the recognition he deserves as a composer. He is known by his weaker music; namely, his broadway scores, like West Side Story and On the Town. His MASS strikes most listeners as being wierd. Those who have actually listened to it usually come to the conclusion that it is an expression of Bernstein's disdain for Catholicism. Allow me to obliterate both of these notions for you. What it really is is the story of the celebrant; he is an island of piety in the midst of a agitated and doubtful congregaion. He manages to keep things more or less together through the first hour and a half or so, but when disgruntled members of the congregation begin to throw accusations at God, he finally suffers a crisis of faith himself, during the hair-raising 'Trope: Things Get Broken.' He dissapears from the scene. The congregation is left to try and worship without him. After a rather awkward beginning, the entire congegation ultimately ends up singing, in a gorgeous canon (that's a round), and reaffirming their faith. At this point the celebrant rejoins them, reaffirming his faith as well. Then, they all (including the stage orchestra) sing a beautiful, contemplative chorale that is a prayer.
Some of the music may not be for everyone, but its profoundly moving message of reconcilliation is certainly one that is for everyone.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I was immediately impressed with this pastiche of musical styles and Bernstein excesses when first perfomed to open the Kennedy Center, and like so many of my friends continue to love the music for what it is--a real good picture of the times in which it was written. It has survived the times as a piece of music, and "Simple Song" seems even more beautiful today. Listening to MASS is like walking throught the 60's, as well as hearing all the musical themes found in Berstein's music....
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2011
I admit I have known this piece since it came out when I was an adolescent, so I have a history with it. Don't buy it expecting a traditional Mass setting. As the sub-title says, it is instead "A theater piece for singers, players and dancers". It is a theatrical production, utilizing the framework of the Mass to present the spiritual/religious conflicts and questions many people experience.

People who lived through the 60s & 70s may think this piece is dated as they recognize many of that time's conflicts in the lyrics, but that is not true. I am now a 50-something clergy spouse in a mainstream denomination. In church work these same conflicts continue to be common, as they no doubt have been for all time. We encounter them all the time. And the priest's breakdown as the congregation pulls him in every direction rings so true to me. The conflicts and questions presented in this work are timeless, there was just a tidal wave of expressing them in the 60s & 70s. Ironically, the desire of this congregation to be "entertained" when they go to church is far more of an issue in churches now than it was in 1971!

I don't consider this great classical music. It is, however, an excellent revelation of the many musical styles Bernstein composed ably in and there are moments of genius in its composing. But it more appropriately belongs in the theatrical world than in the concert world. You need to keep it in the genre in which it was written to appreciate it. Having pretty much worn out my LPs over time, I am very glad to now have this on CD.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
"Mass" was considered a major embarrassment when it opened the Kennedy Center in 1971, and critics fell over themselves mocking its jejune lyrics, solipsistic religiosity, and cringing amabition to imitate the success of "Hair." No work from a major composer was more tragically hip. But if Bernstein was quick to leave a painful fiasco behind ("Mass" is the only big piece of his that he never re-recorded), the gaudy music and street-fair theatrics somehow survived. Now a new generation is responding, although I have a sneaking suspicion that Christian fundamentalism may have something to do with this (imagine Bernstein's reaction).

There are three recordings to choose from, and I thought it would be helpful for prospective buyers to know how they difffer.

1971 Bernstein: This is the original cast album, made after the Washington D.C. premiere, with a huge panoply of performers. No ohter recording has assembled so many musicians and singers. For grandiosity and exuberance, Bernsteein's interpretation is unmantched. His critics may have smelled cheese, but the composer flung himself into his own expression wholeheartedly. Alan Titus as the young Celebrant is equally fervent, a hippie-apostle who believes every word, however clunky, put in his mouth. Titus went on to a notable operatic career in Europe but had a knock for the Broadway vernacular that runs through "Mass." Sony's bright, closely-miked sound has a lot of digital glare in its first CD version, but I haven't heard the latest incarnation.

2004 Nagano: As a transplanted American, Kent Nagano brought the true Bernstein idiom to Berlin for this high-energy reading with the Deutsches Sym. Orch. Production values are high, although nowhere close to the original. The recorded sound is very good. This would have been a total success except for Jerry Hadley as the Celebrant. Never much of a vocal actor, Hadley applies the cliches of an operatic tenor, complete with sobs, to a role that above all requires innocence, or at least guilelessness. He's also too old for the part of a post-adolescent searching for faith in a faithlesss world.

2009 Jarvi: The newest recording pulls back from the gaudiness of the score, attempting through a decent restraint to give "Mass" more dignity. In a way this is a half measure. The eye-popping embarrassments that litter Stephen Schwartz's flower-child lyrics (a ripeness of schlock unique in musical history, I think) cannot be erased. But Celebrant Randall Scarlata, the weakest vocally of the three choices, does the best in avoiding excess. His delivery has a Midwestern flatness that's not as cringe-worthy as Broadway glitz. Conductor Kristian Jarvi is competent, as are the various singers and musicians. The American idiom is spotty -- the recording venue was in Austria -- but I like the slimness of the forces involved. A pared-down "Mass" is saved from grandiosity. On the whole, Chandos's up-to-date sound is the best of the three versions.

Which of the three recordings would I choose? It depends on my mood. If I want the full hallucinatory impact, I turn to Bernstein's unvarnished electro-shock enthusiasm. If I feel too embarrassed for that, Jarvi's relative restraint does the best by a score that will always be green eggs and ham.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I don't know enough about classicaly derived music to judge Mass by objective criteria, but I do like it.

Bernstein mixes all types of ideas on Mass: orchestrail, choral, and short songs, some sounding as if they could be from a Broadway show.

What really strikes me is WHY I love this music. I am a big West Side Story fan, and a lot of what grabs me about that work also draws me to Mass-the mix of styles, and even more, the use of dynamics

Bernstein has a way of going from loud to soft in a second, and when he does, all kinds of sounds explode from the few notes he uses, which is even better when you have a race car pair of speakers like I do.

Since Mass is a long piece, these shifts in dynamics go on for an hour or two--depending on if you play the double set back to back--and it is amazing to ride the crests of each wave.

I apologize for the sheer subjectivity of this review. Simply, I like West Side Story and I wanted to hear more of Lenny's composing, so I got Mass; by my usual standards, the review sucks.

If this were a rock or jazz album I could pick it apart for you technically, piece by peice, but this music is not my area of expertise

But I know what I like, and I really, really like Bernstien's Mass
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 1999
Leonard Bernstein has created a look at the religous arts and emotions of the time. Bernstein uses so many colors in his music that one can see a painted picture in his/her mind. The only thing I disliked about it, in my opinion, is the use of inconsistent musical patterns. Overall its a favorite of mine.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2004
I received my Vatican Performance DVD of Mass yesterday and watched it last night. It's a nice performance - I liken it to the PBS version of Les Miz versus a staged theatre version. The scola and children's chorus are adequate, orchestra ok, celebrant, boy soprano and soloists (for the most part) awesome. BUT, this is not a staged version - there is some half-hearted attempt at movement, but no dancers - no elaborate vestments - which I found disappointing having seen the PBS version in the 70's and a staged version at Northwestern University in the 90's. Still, since there are no other versions, this is a worthwhile investment at about $25 on Amazon. Purists be forewarned, apparently Stephen Schwartz lyric changes (specifically during the Confiteor) have been implemented. I would recommend this to anyone who loves Mass, but if you are looking for a fully staged version, we'll have to wait and see if it is ever available on DVD, because this isn't it. The original CDs still offer the best musical quality. The celebrant isn't Mr. Titus, but is excellent in his own right.
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6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2001
The Mass cannot be taken out of its context. DC needed a big cultural mausoleum, and JFK's death created the opportunity to build one. Jackie O. commissioned fellow 60's icon Leonard Bernstein to write a theater piece for its dedication. (Something like being commissioned to present the first gladiator show at the new Roman Coliseum.)
After you factor in the kharmic vibes of 1970, then the mass makes a bit more sense. It's not unfair or an insult to compare this with Hair, or Jesus Christ Superstar, or even Tommy. The Mass, however, is not intended for commercial success.
From a theological angle, I find it a generation out of synch with contemporary Catholicism. The parable seems one of a disillusioned clergy in a disillusioned Catholic church. The incumbent CEO of that organization has reinvigorated it, while positioning it for growth, ecumenical alliances and a global workforce.
Bernstein's Mass is deeply spiritual, and his intent was to present "the crisis of the human spirit" while transcending it through musical drama. Bernstein was a genius. Sometimes, this is mad-genius, like Richard Burton's drunk-driving in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" It can also be real pretty, since the man knows the symphony, knows the theater and knows the family,
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2014
Transitions between musical parts are not smooth......or that may be my computer?
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5 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2000
A powerful, though occasionally awkward work. In this, we hear Bernstein's struggle to come to terms with what musical theater had become by 1970. Godspell, Hair, and Jesus Christ Superstar had obviously worked their way into his subconscious. Is this Bernstein the hippie? Hippie talk and hippie musical influences are heard. I remember as an early teen seeing this on TV in the early '70s. I didn't know what to make of it. Now that I'm older and an atheist, I've come to love it. I see it as an indictment of empty Christianity and Catholicism. How it must have mocked the ostensibly Catholic Kennedys when it premiered at the inauguration of the JFK Center in DC! A raucous piece, which succeeds despite its haphazard layout. Some of the songs really get to you. Many questions and angry accusations are hurled at God. Though the piece ends tranquilly, none of the questions or accusations are answered. Heck, they're still not answered to this very day. One last thing: Someone please contact Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet) and get him to film this!
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