Bernstein: Mass - Yannick Nézet-Séguin (2CD)

Deutsche Grammophon
$44.99
Current Stock:
SKU:
4835009
Artist:
Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Jacqueline Kennedy commissioned Leonard Bernstein to compose this massive work for the inauguration of the Kennedy Centre in New York. It premiered on 8 September 1971. Bernstein decided to write an innovative Mass and what came out is, say, a Catholic Mass getting out of hand.

The Mass is seen through the eyes of a Jewish composer with an extraordinary palette of musical styles at his disposal, the work draws on influences from religious to popular and broadway musical genres.

Requiring two orchestras, rock band, marching band, multiple choirs and musical singers, for obvious reasons, the monumental work is rarely performed and even rarer on disc.

Born out of the political and social turmoil of the 60s, its main character experiences a roller-coaster of emotions and questioning of faith. On a wide variety of levels, this work is as relevant today as it was at its inception. Nixon, then President, refused to attend the premiere after an FBI warning for fear it could contain anti-war/anti-government sentiments.

Unified under his baton, Yannick Nézet-Séguin forges a powerfully emotional interpretation of this unique work – a cross-section of European and American Music.

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Tracklisting:

Bernstein: Mass / I. Devotions Before Mass
1. Antiphon: Kyrie Eleison
2. Hymn And Psalm: "A Simple Song"
3. Responsory: Alleluia

Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Pre-Recorded Tape (actor/singer), Kevin Vortmann (tenor)

Bernstein: Mass / II. First Introit (Rondo)
1. Prefatory Prayers
2. Thrice - Triple Canon: Dominum Vobiscum

Philadelphia Orchestra, Street Chorus Cast, The American Boychoir, Student Musicians from the School District of Philadelphia
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Meredith Lustig (soprano), Kevin Vortmann (tenor), Douglas Butler (boy soprano), Julia Burrows (soprano), Morgan James (soprano), Temple University Diamond Marching Band (military band)

Bernstein: Mass / III. Second Introit
1. In Nomine Patris
2. Prayer For The Congregation (Chorale: "Almighty Father")
3. Epiphany

Philadelphia Orchestra, Westminster Symphonic Choir, The American Boychoir, Temple University Concert Choir
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Kevin Vortmann (tenor), Pre-Recorded Tape (actor/singer)

Bernstein: Mass / IV. Confession
1. Confiteor
2. Trope: "I Don't Know"
3. Trope: "Easy"

Philadelphia Orchestra, Temple University Concert Choir, Westminster Symphonic Choir
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
E. Clayton Cornelious (tenor), Kent Overshown (baritone), Morgan James (soprano), Benjamin Krumreig (tenor), Bryonha Marie Parham (mezzo-soprano), J.D. Webster (tenor), Devin Ilaw (tenor)

Bernstein: Mass / V. Meditation #1

Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Bernstein: Mass / VI. Gloria
1. Gloria Tibi
2. Gloria In Excelsis
3. Trope: "Half Of The People"
4. Trope: "Thank You"

Philadelphia Orchestra, Street Chorus Cast, Temple University Concert Choir, The American Boychoir, Westminster Symphonic Choir
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Sarah Uriarte Berry (soprano), Kevin Vortmann (tenor)

Bernstein: Mass / VII. Meditation #2
Bernstein: Mass / VIII. Epistle: "The Word Of The Lord"
Bernstein: Mass / IX. Gospel-Sermon: "God Said"

Philadelphia Orchestra, Street Chorus Cast
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Kevin Vortmann (tenor), Timothy McDevitt (psalm singer), Sarah Uriarte Berry (soprano), Benjamin Krumreig (tenor), Kent Overshown (baritone), Julia Burrows (soprano), Lyn Philistine (mezzo-soprano), Zachary James (bass), Devin Ilaw (tenor), J.D. Webster (tenor)

Bernstein: Mass / X. Credo
1. Credo In Unum Deum
2. Trope: "Non Credo"
3. Trope: "Hurry"
4. Trope: "World Without End" - Et In Spiritum Sanctum
5. Trope: "I Believe In God"

Philadelphia Orchestra, Street Chorus Cast, Temple University Concert Choir, Westminster Symphonic Choir
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Kevin Vortmann (tenor), Nathaniel Stampley (baritone), Hilary Ginther (mezzo-soprano), Pearl Sun (vocals), Pre-Recorded Tape (actor/singer), Morgan James (mezzo-soprano)

Bernstein: Mass / XI. Meditation #3 (De Profundis, Part 1)
Bernstein: Mass / XII. Offertory (De Profundis, Part 2)

Philadelphia Orchestra, Westminster Symphonic Choir, Temple University Concert Choir, The American Boychoir
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Kevin Vortmann (tenor)

Bernstein: Mass / XIII. The Lord's Prayer
1. "Our Father..."
2. Trope: "I Go On"

Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Kevin Vortmann (tenor)

Bernstein: Mass / XIV. Sanctus

Philadelphia Orchestra, The American Boychoir, Street Chorus Cast
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Kevin Vortmann (tenor)

Bernstein: Mass / XV. Agnus Dei
a. "Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi"
b. "Dona nobis, nobis pacem, pacem dona"

Philadelphia Orchestra, Temple University Concert Choir, Street Chorus Cast, Westminster Symphonic Choir
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Kevin Vortmann (tenor), E. Clayton Cornelious (tenor)

Bernstein: Mass / XVI. Fraction: "Things Get Broken"
a. "Pacem! Pacem! Pa... cem!"
b. "... Quiet..."
c. Allegro furioso - "Why Are You Waiting?"
d. "God... Said..."
e. "Oh I Suddenly Feel Ev’ry Step I’ve Ever Taken"

Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Kevin Vortmann (tenor)

Bernstein: Mass / XVII. Pax: Communion
a. Prestissimo a piacere
b. "Sing God A Secret Song"
c. "Almighty Father"

Philadelphia Orchestra, Westminster Symphonic Choir, Street Chorus Cast, Temple University Concert Choir
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Douglas Butler (boy soprano), J.D. Webster (tenor), Kevin Vortmann (voice), Meredith Lustig (soprano), Devin Ilaw (tenor), E. Clayton Cornelious (tenor), Lyn Philistine (soprano), Zachary James (bass), Hilary Ginther (soprano), Julia Burrows (soprano), Benjamin Krumreig (tenor)

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A new recording presents Bernstein's Mass as the event it was intended to be.

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When Leonard Bernstein's Mass appeared in 1971, commissioned for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington, it was an event––or in the parlance of the time, a "happening". The multiple forces include a full orchestra and choir, a children's choir, a taxing solo part for the Celebrant, and a large number of legit and "street singer" soloists accompanied by a rock band. Bernstein, ever the eclectic and determined to be taken seriously by young and old alike, combined rock, jazz, blues, 12-tone music, an orchestral circus march, and much else. Not many composers could make such a mixture their own, but Bernstein's distinctive melodies and harmonic progressions knit everything together. He wrote the libretto, with the help of Godspell's Stephen Schwartz.

Mass is of its time, an era when social standards were being questioned by the post-war generation. Bernstein was always obsessed with the idea of a crisis of faith, and one point of Mass seems to be his contention that religious ceremony and its paraphernalia had gotten in the way of genuine spirituality. Nearly all the solos express a crisis of faith, some with a great degree of cynicism, and toward the end the Celebrant has his own grand-opera "mad scene", smashing the sacred objects of the service. This makes such an impact, Bernstein's attempt to work his way back to a state of innocence and purity at the end has never quite struck me as successful.

A number of recordings have post-dated the first, which still stands up. (For later performances, a few glaringly awful lyrics were rewritten, presumably by Schwartz.) I am a fan of Marin Alsop's recording on Naxos, with Jubilant Sykes as a volatile, convincing Celebrant. Nézet-Séguin's performance is itself an event, captured live in Philadelphia in April and May of 2015. He clearly decided that the soloists and even the choir (right from their first appearance) should project a high level of hysteria, and they do not let up. Tenor Kevin Vortmann's sober Celebrant is well sung and performed with conviction, but there is something rather formal in his vocalisation. Perhaps that is appropriate, but it risks turning his mad scene into a mere hissy fit.

The orchestra (The Philadelphia Orchestra), it goes without saying, is stunning. The recording engineers struggle to make everything clear––the percussion in 'Gloria tibi' is very muddy, for example. That is a minus to weigh against the pluses of live performance. Sound balance put me off initially, but several hearings convinced me that Nézet-Séguin and his musicians are right: Like its author, this piece is too over the top to tame.