American Classics - Bernstein: Mass / Marin Alsop, Jubilant Sykes, Baltimore SO

Album Summary

>Bernstein, Leonard : Alleluia
Performers Conductor Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

"Leonard Bernstein's own version bettered? Yes, indeed! This is, handily, the best sung, best played, most intelligently interpreted recording of Mass currently available... 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... 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" -Classics Today (10/10)

When Leonard Bernstein was asked by Jackie O to compose the inaugural work for the opening of the J.F. Kennedy Center for performing arts in Wash. D.C. Maestro Bernstein wrote: "The Mass is also an extremely dramatic event in itself- it even suggests a theater work."

Notes & Reviews:

Leonard Bernstein's Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers was given a mixed reception upon its premiere as the inaugural production at the opera house of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on September 8, 1971. A double-LP box set recording followed in the fall, and there were performances in several cities the next year, but the work, which mixed popular music genres with classical ones, never attracted a wide following. More than 30 years later, however, three recordings appeared during the first decade of the 21st century, one by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin conducted by Kent Nagano and made in November 2003; a second by the Tonkünstler-Orchester (the State Orchestra of Lower Austria) conducted by Kristian Järvi and made in February 2006; and this one by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop and made in October 2008. While these versions are clearly inferior to the one Bernstein himself conducted in 1971, they serve to alert 21st century listeners that the composition is not just a time capsule of its era. That's the way some saw it in the early '70s, when it seemed of a piece with several other musical theater works that attempted to use the Christian religion to comment on the social turmoil of the period, notably Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, the latter written by Stephen Schwartz, who also co-wrote the lyrics to Mass. In each work, the tradition-encrusted tale of Christ's life was contemporized in song with an emphasis on skepticism and even cynicism, sung in vernacular language and expressed musically in styles of rock and pop. Bernstein's version, based on the liturgy of the Roman Catholic mass, was the most musically ambitious and eloquent, tracing the ways in which Christian belief could be perverted and questioned. Creating a government-commissioned work, he may have been trying to "catch the conscience of the king," in his case, President Richard Nixon, who failed to attend the premiere. But his and Schwartz's attack on those who use Christianity for their own ends, as expressed in "God Said," with its specious justifications for anti-environmentalism and warmongering, must sound only too familiar to listeners familiar with the policies of President George W. Bush, who was in the White House when all three of the newer recordings were made. Sometimes, it seems the best way to be timeless is to be timely. As such, Alsop, like Järvi and Nagano, had the potential to create a version of Mass that spoke to her own generation as Bernstein attempted to speak to his. In all three cases, that opportunity has been squandered, however, and oddly enough in much the same ways. While the 1971 recording was full of impassioned performances reflecting the ripped-from-the-headlines quality of the writing, Alsop, just like Järvi and Nagano did, treats the work largely as a museum piece, rendering it as though it was some dusty opera, without much conviction. Musically, Alsop, again like Järvi and Nagano, hews far closer to the classical elements in the score, giving only cursory treatment to the pop music parts, which unbalances the work. If new recordings of Bernstein's Mass can reawaken debate about a composition that deserves to be remembered, what it really should do is send the curious back to the initial version. Perhaps a theatrical production handled by people less tied to the classical realm could bring the work back in a more meaningful way. ~ William Ruhlmann



Reviews

Musical Jubilee
Leonard Bernsteinís Mass is a one of a kind experience. Before listening to it, the only work of Bernsteinís that I was really familiar with was West Side Story. Iím not sure what I was expecting, but I can safely say that this is not your grandmamaís mass. There are parts of the Mass that are almost like West Side Story meets a Sousa march. There is so much energy that you canít help but perk up when you listen to it. Lyrically, there are tongue and cheek moments that may rattle some cages, but thatís what makes this piece unique. This particular performance of the Mass is really special. Baritone Jubilant Sykes is at the helm and brings such vibrancy to an already exciting piece. I really love how theatrical it is. The Morgan State University Choir and the Peabody Childrenís Chorus also lend their voices to the musical jubilee. Every soloist does a wonderful job negotiating the multiple musical genres in this one work, so there is really something for everyone to enjoy!
Submitted on 09/07/09 by E. Apuzzo 
Alsop aces the Bernstein Mass
Marin Alsop's reading of the controversial Bernstein Mass is precisely what we've come to expect from the Baltimore Symphony's outstanding maestro: fresh, vibrant, cathartic, and empathic. The mass itself, more vernacular and theatrical than liturgical, is a hit-or-miss piece, but for those who love Bernstein and/or his famous Mass, you will find this to be a top-quality interpretation and recording. The recording is sonically robust and clean, and features inspired performances from Jubilant Sykes (baritone); Asher Edward Wulfman (boy soprano); the Morgan State University Choir, under the direction and preparation of Dr. Eric Conway; and the Peabody Children's Chorus, directed by Doreen Falby. Certainly a top-tier recording of this popular American work!
Submitted on 10/01/09 by musicbizkid 
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Works Details

>Bernstein, Leonard : Alleluia
  • Performers: Max Perlman (Voice); Sarah Berry (Voice); Ceasar Samayoa (Voice); Matt Boehler (Bass Baritone); Janet Saia (Voice); Mike McGowan (Voice); Joe Paparella (Voice); Susan Derry (Voice); Amy Justman (Voice); Telly Leung (Voice); Celisse Henderson (Voice); Timothy Shew (Voice); Theresa McCarthy (Voice); Dan Micciche (Voice); Laurie Williamson (Voice); Asher Wulfman (Boy Soprano); Jodie Langel (Voice); Ilya Finkelshteyn (Cello); Kevin Vortmann (Voice); J.D. Webster (Voice); Len Horowitz (Voice); James Morgan (Organ)
  • Conductor: Marin Alsop
  • Ensemble: Morgan State University Choir
  • Notes: Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, MD (10/21/2008-10/22/2008)
  • Running Time: 93 min. 34 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Written: 1971
  • Studio/Live: Live