Marin Alsop: 2010 Gramophone Award Winner

10.01.10
Marin Alsop
Gramophone

Editor's Choice

For Gramophone editor James Inverne, a new recording of Leonard Bernstein's Mass reclaimed a masterpiece.

As has been previously detailed in these pages, the premiere of  Leonard Bernstein's Mass was one of the most controversial of all music debuts. Audience members rushed to carp (it was "derivative, attitudinising drivel" according to the prominent critic John  Simon), or clap, with the Washington Post's Paul Hume calling it  "the greatest music Bernstein has written". To his dying day Bernstein himself felt it to be among the most important things he had done (it's worth recalling again his reaction to Gramophone  critic Edward Seckerson's suggestion to him that the Mass was  "seminal" - "A critic's word," he replied, "but I might just kiss  you on the lips for saying it!"). Now public opinion has caught up with his own...and Marin Alsop has had a great deal to do with  that.

As one of Bernstein's last students, Alsop has tirelessly evangelised for this work. She understands it better than almost anyone, telling Seckerson in this magazine last year, "What's interesting about Mass is just how prophetic it's turned out to be. All those boundaries between genres, between different styles of music - they're gone." As it happened, Alsop's long-awaited recording of the piece was pipped to the post by another, also fine recording from the Chandos conducted by Kristjan Jarvi. But it is the Alsop on Naxos, with her fine Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which to my mind shows the greater understanding of its myriad styles and undergoes the more convincing and coherent dramatic arc. And she is also blessed with a riveting performer in the central role of the Celebrant - the aptly named Jubilant Sykes. He throws himself into the performance heart, soul and throat (there are times when one fears for his vocal health, such  is his no-holds-barred level of commitment).

So we finally have a worth successor to Bernstein's own recording. "[Alsop creates] a dramatic slipstream that is powered  relentlessly onwards by the awkward discontinuities and jagged narrative...go tell it on the mountain", wrote Philip Clark in his review. Power - emotional, musical - is the word.