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. Featuring Marin Alsop conducting the Baltimore Symphony
Orchestra and soloist Jubilant Sykes.
10/10 - Artistic Quality & Sound Quality: Leonard Bernstein's own version bettered? Yes, indeed! This is, handily, the best sung, best played, most intelligently interpreted recording of Mass currently available. Of course, Bernstein's rendition always will have sterling qualities, including some wonderful solo singers with really characterful 'pop' and Broadway voices, but for its sheer musical integrity combined with the advantage of the composer's final revisions to the score, this version is unbeatable. Jubilant Sykes, as the Celebrant, easily outclasses Alan Titus' very fine premiere recording of the role. His voice has more edge; he's more at ease with the various pop idioms; he sounds radiant at the work's opening and grows increasingly desperate as it proceeds. This only serves to make his climactic breakdown tragically believable.
The various street singers are, one and all, terrific. 'God Said' becomes the work's comic climax, which is as it should be. 'I believe in God', 'Confession', 'World Without End', and 'Thank You' are both idiomatic and beautifully sung. The children's choir sounds luminous in the Sanctus, while the adult chorus, from Morgan State University, sings with gusto as well as immaculate diction, with every word clearly comprehensible. Marin Alsop knits the whole ensemble together with infallible insight and verve. Her tempos, a bit different from Bernstein's, quicker here ('God Said'), a touch slower there (the wild dance in the Offertory), are no less right.
It's all fabulously recorded with a glittering impact that never turns unduly aggressive. The multi-textural layering in the climactic Dona Nobis Pacem comes across as both musically and physically overwhelming. Mass has its detractors, but when performed with this kind of conviction the piece can be inexpressibly moving. Alsop never has made a finer recording--it's both a tribute to her mentor Leonard Bernstein, as well as to her exceptional talent as an exponent of his music. --ClassicsToday.com, David Hurwitz, August 2009