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Bernstein: Mass

29 customer reviews

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Audio CD, August 25, 2009
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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.

Review

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

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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Marin Alsop
  • Composer: Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Schwartz
  • Audio CD (August 25, 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Naxos American Classics
  • ASIN: B002ED6VCW
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,268 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Tym S. on September 3, 2009
Format: Audio CD
Leonard Bernstein turned Catholic ritual into activist theatre with this crucial work.

But the grand themes hardly make this a mental slog. This music moves and soars, takes surprise tangents and playful turns. It flows with beauty and grace the whole way. Its abundant riches encompass classical chorals and solos, Broadway musicals, world musics, modern dissonance, and sauntering rock and soul styles. Reading the lyrics, which are sung in English as often as Latin, only enriches that smooth ride. Bernstein has made this amazingly accessible without sacrificing any sophistication or depth.

"Mass" reflects the social maelstrom of the counterculture uprisings of the late 60's and early 70's. In musical breadth and examination of belief it is a parallel of the rock musicals "Hair", "Jesus Christ Superstar", and "Godspell". Its themes of anger and confusion in the quest for self-divination also mirror The Who's rock opera "Tommy". Other contemporary spokes in this cycle include the baroque complexity that producer Charles Stephney brought to Rotary Connection's albums; the shining harmonies with tart lyrics of The Free Design; and producer David Axelrod's similar sonic explorations on The Electric Prune's "Mass In F Minor" and "Release Of An Oath" (1968).

Rock fans may also find common musical ground with recent work like Dead Can Dance or Anne Dudley & Jaz Coleman; the classical works of Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney; the adventurous pop work of Ute Lemper and Anne Sofie von Otter; and the rock interpretations of Trio Rococo, The Brodsky Quartet, and The String Quartet.

Bernstein didn't want to reitierate obedience to faith; he wanted to challenge it to prove itself worthy.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By William S. Oser on December 17, 2009
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I was in the original production of MASS at Kennedy Center, my big solo was "I believe in God." The singer who sings it on this new recording, conducted beautifully by Bernstein deciple Marin Asop puts me to shame, I only wish I had that kind of POWER on the upper reaches of that trope, and Bernstein wrote it with me in mind. The strength of this recording is Jubilant Sykes as the Celebrant, easily the best of the 3 who have recorded the part (discounting Kent Nagano's simply horrible recording with absolutely NOTHING to recommend it for). Alan Titus had a more solid technique, but I believe Lenny would have adored Mr. Sykes sound which has one foot in the black church and the other in American classical music. His opening Sing God a Simple Song is just what is advertised, a simple, folk like song. He is strong also on Word of the Lord and he simply breaks my heart on the double header Lord's Prayer and I Go On. Alan Titus can't touch him here, he sounds so emotionally tired that when the whole emotional thing comes tumbling down at the end of Agnes Dei you are there with him. A superlative performance in a difficult role. The other singers range from adequate to a few WOWS, but the whole of the performance hangs together well. Krisjan Jarvi's performance on Chandos blends the disparate elements better than Alsop and better than Bernstein (I'm sorry Lenny, but I believe this is true), so that his performance has a bette arc to it, but I don't care for his celebrant all that much and the solo singing has a few glaringly weak spots. All three of the recordings except Nagano have great merit. If I had to choose one recording, it would be Bernstein, it sizzles. For me, I love this piece like one of my children, I'll keep all three around for their different strengths.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. A. Kawarsky on September 4, 2009
Format: Audio CD
Many words have been written on this fascinating and quite often uneven work. This recording is the best. Jubilant Sykes hits a Home Run. The recording engineers deserve kudos. Everything makes sense for the first time. It's a "WOW".
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Alan P. Kefauver on February 24, 2010
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
As a previous reviewer has said, the original Bernstein recording is still the best. I have that, this one, and the Kent Nagano (SACD) one. Look folks, you either like "Mass" or you don't so let's not quibble about the work itself. It's different than the "Kaddish Symphony #3", "Candide", and "Chichester Songs" among others. I am a Baltimore native, a former career classical musician, and a professional audio engineer. I really like Alsop's work and the BSO in general but I do find this a bit restrained.
Now, to be picky.
I find the engineering on the recording moderate to good. I know the piece well, but I don't think the balance engineer and maybe the producer knew it well enough. There are sections where the orchestra is in the distance and other places where it is in your face. Come on, let's be consistant. This is a very very difficult work to record. To do it in two days is really a miracle, but it could have been done better. The electronic stuff sometimes sounds like it is in mono, the electric bass obviously has a direct box on it and often doesn't blend well. And, I hesitate to say this, but maybe the dynamic range is a little too great. You need a really quiet room to listen to this. I have an extreme audio system, but I still found that some of the Celebrant vocalizing in the first movements was inconsistent. Listening in the car is impossible without having your hand on the volume knob.
I expect, knowing Naxos, that the recording was mostly done direct-to-two as most clasical is done. The Meyerhoff can be a tough hall. This work cries for a serious multi-track recording with extensive mixdown work.
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