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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Critical MASS Rises UP!
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...
Published on September 3, 2009 by Tym S.

versus
15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There is still only one original
I bought this CD based upon three things: the glowing reviews I read; of the three versions, this one is the only one by an American using American forces; and it was the least expensive. I probably should have tried one of the others. The obvious comparison is to Bernstein's own recording. Don't get me wrong, this is a fine performance, but Bernstein's version (even...
Published on December 1, 2009 by Glen A. Gill


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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Critical MASS Rises UP!, September 3, 2009
By 
Tym S. (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (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. "Mass" takes the ritual of Latin benediction chants and dissects them with the wit of Brecht and Weill. Its hero the Celebrant leads the congregation in prayer, until the crisis of faith of the increasingly critical masses reach critical mass and cause him to question his own belief. "Give us peace now and peace to hold on to/ And, God, give us some reason to want to." By extension the work questions the divine, the leadership of nations, and the choices of the individual. "Mass" is a confession of deep conflict, a rebellion against silent suffering, a dialogue of ideas. Some may consider the work's questioning of what is rote versus what is right as sacrilegious, but Bernstein succeeds in showing that soul-searching is what gives faith its relevance. The Celebrant's faith shatters when he flings the chalice to the floor: "It's odd how all my body trembles/ Like all this mass/ Of glass on the floor." But he is ultimately able to renew his belief as the simplicity of music shows him the reflection of divinity, and its eternal resonance within.

Infamously, in paranoia about Bernstein's progressive views, the FBI warned President Nixon to avoid the premiere performance. They were uncomfortable with its themes of questioning authority, street rebellions, and anti-war stances. "God said to spread His commands/ To folks in faraway lands/ They may not want us there/ But, man, it's out of our hands." Nixon skipped out. Its political relevency has only increased in recent years, both in anti-war and ecological concerns: "Whispers of living, echoes of warning/ World without end spins endlessly on/ Only the men who lived here are gone/ No one to oil the seas/ No one to anything at all." Naturally it has seen four revivals during the second term of Bush.

This is the one to get. Jubilant Sikes is a brilliant choice for the conflicted hero, with his versatile voice and equally supple delivery. All of the different choral groups and soloists also shine brightly. The music is always alive, flowing, surprising, and beautiful. And with 2 CDs for the price of 1, you can't lose! Viva, la revolucion.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A worthy new recording of MASS, December 17, 2009
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This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (Audio CD)
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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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best of the lot, September 4, 2009
By 
J. A. Kawarsky "jaktg" (New Hope, PA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A restrained Mass, February 24, 2010
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This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (Audio CD)
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. I would have done it in the classical style as Naxos appears to have down, but multi-tracked the various orchestra sections (WW, Brass, Percussion, Strings, )choruses, electronics, pre-recorded portions, and soloist so balances could be treaked in post. This may have been a budget decision.
It's too bad this had not been done in surround as it would be the definitive surround recording easily beating out the Nagano.

APK
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Vibrant Masterpiece, December 29, 2009
By 
David A. Wend (Chicago, IL USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (Audio CD)
I recall in 1971 when Leonard Bernstein's Mass had its premiere and the general poor reception of the work by music critics. This new recording by Marin Alsop provides us with a fresh look at Bernstein's Mass. Leonard Bernstein conceived Mass as a meditation about faith and the culture behind it. One foot is in the secular world and the other in the spiritual, so Mass is more an examination of religious faith than a setting of the Catholic Mass. Leonard Bernstein takes the introduction of poems in the Requiem Mass by Benjamin Britten and takes the Mass from the church to the stage. The structure of Mass loosely follows the outline of the Catholic Mass and adds to it texts by Stephen Schwartz (who wrote Godspell), the composer and even from Paul Simon. .

As the title reveals, Mass is a theater piece, populated with singers, dances and actors. It is not difficult to pick out the influence of West Side Story and Candide in the approach to the music. The music is a mixture of styles including symphonic band, jazz, rock, pop, Middle Eastern and hymn singing. For me, the section that sums up the self-interpreting of religions comes in Gospel_Sermon: "God Said," where ideas progress from creation to exploitation. The Agnus Dei section is certainly like no other and has a wild rhythm that builds and builds with energy.

Marin Alsop has does a fabulous job of holding together all the disparate elements of Mass. Her passion for this work of her teacher and mentor comes through. Jubilant Sykes is fabulous as the Celebrant, the pivotal figure of this work. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Peabody Children's Chorus and the Morgan State University Choir bring the music to life. In sum, Mass is a work that encompasses the widest variety of feeling and experience, touching on protest, disillusionment and spirituality. The questions being asked and the mix of musical styles will not appeal to everyone but, for me, it makes for an interesting journey.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A worthy modern recording at last, September 4, 2009
This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (Audio CD)
Pace a previous reviewer, Mass isn't a neglected masterpiece. For a troubled score that was greeted as grossly self-indulgent at its premiere, the work has been surprisingly durable. The reason is that Mass really works as theater. Its dizzying variety of styles, always tending toward pops and Broadway, not to mention unembarrassed kitsch, keeps an audience entertained. When stripped of stage action, however, the gaudy mixture of musical styles poses problems. The composer went for all-out razmataz in the premier recording on Sony, and for a long time that approach has held way. Now we have a viable alternative that is vigorous but not unbridled. Alsop took Mass from Baltimore to New York as part of last year's extravagant Bernstein festival. She scored a hit, and now we can hear why.

As everyone else has noted, Jubilant Sykes brings a bluesy intensity and gospel righteousness to the Celebrant. Frankly, he's not just a revelation but a relief from crossover opera singers trying to sound hip. Sykes is a genuine heir to "Hair" as he tackles Bernstein's pastiche of Sixties politics and religious skepticism. His voice rings out thrillingly in a section like Epistle: The word of the Lord. A second strength is Alsop's decision to use professional Swingle Swinger-style vocalists in the close harmony jazzy sections, so reminiscent of Bernstein's early chamber opera, Trouble in Tahiti. In quite a few other places Alsop's tendency is to be much cooler and more precise than the composer. She doesn't have his exuberant swing, but who ever did? Stephen Schwartz's "see the hippies go to church" libretto still makes for a good deal of cringing, all the more so because the aging Bernstein so eagerly jumped on board. Street people he wasn't and never will be. For that reason, there are stretches that lag and lull in Mass, and Alsop doesn't succeed in hiding them. However, Sykes's sincerity carries the day in the final, melodramatic, luridly kitschy final breakdown. He deserves our gratitude, and does the whole enterprise. I wish Alsop hadn't remained so coolly restrained at times, but that's a small quibble. Mass has found a worthy modern recording at last.

P.S. - Listening again to Mass, I found myself growing more and more squeamish. This mishmash of religious kitsch and Broadway has lowered my estimation of Bernstein more than any other single thing in his career. I hope my review doesn't fuel any notion that this mess is a masterpiece.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Always exciting to have a new recording of Bernstein's Mass..., December 27, 2010
By 
David DeLucia "Dave" (East Haddam, Ct. United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (Audio CD)
I recently reviewed Bernstein's own recording of this piece and find Alsop's almost the equal to it. The primary differences are generally in the intensity and "lingering", so terribly difficult to pinpoint, but definitely part of the listening experience. Alsop tends to tone down the frenzy of the original. Listen to her "Dona Pacem, Pacem Dona" then Bernstein's and the difference is obvious. I also think there are some differences in the orchestration. After the 13 or so minute "Isn't that odd..." sequence, Bernstein sets up a menacing rumble before the flute? comes in for its solo. However, in Alsop's version I distinctly heard a distant organ- is that in the score? The closing chorale steals in magically in Bernstein's own version, whereas Alsop is considerably more prosaic. That said, I like the soloists in the Alsop version even better than Bernstein's own and the pacing is mostly effective. This is a bargain alternative, although I found a used copy of Bernstein's own interpretation that was less than the used offerings of Alsop's approach offered herein!
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There is still only one original, December 1, 2009
By 
Glen A. Gill (Cincinnati, OH United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (Audio CD)
I bought this CD based upon three things: the glowing reviews I read; of the three versions, this one is the only one by an American using American forces; and it was the least expensive. I probably should have tried one of the others. The obvious comparison is to Bernstein's own recording. Don't get me wrong, this is a fine performance, but Bernstein's version (even with its dated sound and quadraphonic gimickry) is still the preferred one to own. Alsop's forces just don't deliver the impact, the immediacy, that Bernstein gets. That impact (the in-your-face delivery) is so important in order to get across his message. Especially since all we have is an audio presentation of the work.

For those that wish to experience a live performance, there is a fine DVD of a performance given at the Vatican which I found very powerful and moving.

I just wish Sony or a specialty-label like Pentatone would restore Bernstein's original Quad recording.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bernstein Mass featuring Jubilant Sykes, September 27, 2009
This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (Audio CD)
Posted 09/27/09: Leonard Bernstein's Mass is not your typical Mass. It's fresh, vibrant and exciting. The piece uses the text from the liturgy of the Roman Mass, as well as, additional texts by Bernstein and Leonard Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked). This combination brings new life to a style of music that can sometimes be boring. Jubilant Sykes is the celebrant and his performance is nothing short of outstanding. The voices of the Morgan State University Choir, the Peabody Children's Chorus, and the individual soloists throughout the piece are all excellent and really add to the enjoyment of the piece. You won't be disappointed!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sing God a Simple Song: Mass or just a Mess?, March 13, 2012
This review is from: Bernstein: Mass (Audio CD)
I was working in theatre in 1972 when it was announced that Leonard Bernstein was coming to Australia to conduct a series of Mahler Concerts and to present 'MASS' for the first time in the Antipodes. I quickly made it known that I would work without pay in 'any' capacity to be part of the performance. Alas, it did not come to pass, Bernstein, came, conducted Mahler and went, leaving adoring audiences in his wake...but not a mention of 'Mass'. All we had was the cast recording on vinyl. Still, better than nothing...

At this time of writing, 13 March 2012...The Adelaide Festival has just presented Jubilant Sykes, conducted by Kristjan Jarvi, in Leonard Bernstein's 'Mass'.

The moment I got home, I put on my C.D. of the version with Sykes' and the Baltimore Symphony...merely because you can't get it on DVD. (This is a failure of imagination, staggering in its shortsightedness...)

Re-jigged-re-imagined, whatever term you wish to use, this work refuses to go away. Why? Quite simply because it is good...and like all good art still resonates. Clunky?...perhaps?..clumsy...maybe?..but in its new incarnation, it still has something very powerful to say.

Despite my familiarity with the subject matter, I found myself very close to tears during the performance, and am still singing the songs some 3 days later...

Other reviewers have commented on Jubilant Sykes performance as the Celebrant and they are correct in their appraisal.This recorded version is as close as you will get to the theatrical experience. (I know there is one DVD version of Mass' available, but it is sadly lacking.)

Until a better theatrical version becomes available to see...Listen...allow it to annoy, intrigue and hopefully make you think about the way we practise religion, and what that means, and about music and ultimately mankind itself...and what we are searching for...

'I believe in God...but does God believe in me..?'

I can't answer that...but I'm pretty sure he believes in Leonard Bernstein'...and 'MASS'!
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Bernstein: Mass
Bernstein: Mass by Jubilant Sykes (Audio CD - 2009)
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