SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

LEONARD BERNSTEIN: Mass


Published on May 17, 2005

LEONARD BERNSTEIN: Mass
LEONARD BERNSTEIN: Mass – Jerry Hadley, tenor/Soloists of the
Pacific Mozart Ensemble/Radio Choir Berlin/State and Cathedral Choir
Berlin/Deutsches Symphony Orchestra Berlin/Kent Nagano – Harmonia mundi
HMC 801840.41 (2 discs), 1 hr. 46 min. ****:

*****Multichannel Disc of the Month*****
 

I reviewed this in its original CD form last October and at the end of
the review said: “Again, this would be a very suitable work for
multichannel reproduction, and perhaps HM will eventually release it as
such.” Well, here it is. I think I’ll be lazy and just give you my
original review below, but let me first address the advantage of the
multichannel version: Huge. Due to both the more subtle details of the
performance coming thru due to the higher resolution audio, the
surround field involves the listener more in the work – almost as
though you were participating. The actions of the Celebrant are now
more dramatic and emotional, especially when he smashes the objects on
the altar and jumps up to dance on it. The entire work opens with a
four-channel tape playing voices singing an antiphon, and they are
reproduced via the four corner speakers of one’s surround system. This
effect returns later with non-taped singers and spoken word at
individual speakers. Bongo drums on the surrounds introduce one section
that is rock-based. Just before that a plaintive oboe moves spatially
around the performing space. One rock section opens with a drum set
heard from the rear. I had never before really gotten in tune with this
Bernstein theater work even though I admired its audacity, and I even
had the quad LP set. Now on multichannel SACD I would put it right up
there with Candide and West Side Story, and so I’ve made it our
Multichannel Disc of the Month.

[Review of CD:] Bernstein’s theater piece was composed in memory of
John Kennedy and premiered in l971. It elicited considerable negative
discussion from conservative voices in liturgical music for its alleged
sacrilegious slant. The libretto mixes texts by Bernstein and Stephen
Schwartz with parts of the Roman Catholic Mass – which Jewish Bernstein
found especially theatrical. The “Celebrant’s” (Jerry Hadley) faith is
strong and pure at the beginning, but beset by corruption, misuse of
power and human misery he questions his faith. Though nearly renouncing
it, at the end he joins other believers in praise of God. The work is
indeed extremely theatrical and mixes classical, rock, pop and Broadway
- used such forces (in addition to a large orchestra) as a marching
band, mixed chorus, children’s chorus, dancers and a rock band. In some
ways it is redolent of the 60s but in others it retains a very
up-to-date take on the place of spirituality in our society today.

This is the first complete recording of the work since Bernstein’s
original for Columbia done shortly after the premiere. That one was a
unique experience both in its original LP form (It was available in SQ
quad) as well as its later CD reissue. But it takes a back seat to
Nagano’s much brighter and brasher treatment of the work. There is a
special enthusiasm felt in the new recording that even tops that of the
Bernstein-conducted original. Grammy-winner Hadley is perfect in his
role. Recorded in connection with live performances in Berlin, the
effect of this very American work on the German audiences seems to have
been some powerful schnapps for all concerned. A video of the
performance wouldn’t be a bad idea.

- John Sunier




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