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The unkind joke about Leonard Bernstein is that he always considered the music to be an accompaniment to the conducting. In truth, Bernstein was a great creator of spectacle, and the object of the spectacle was by no means always himself. This extraordinary work is part-Roman liturgy, part-rock concert and part-happening. Bernstein’s notorious commitment to ‘radical chic’ sometimes hid his profound traditionalism. The writing draws heavily on the Church Mass, as well as on African-American vernacular and white secular music. Amazingly, and thanks to a joyously committed ensemble, the piece hangs together, even as a purely audio event. The first CD can seem a little chaotic in places, but from the Credo onwards, the second disc slowly builds in power and presence, and the two closing sections – ‘Fraction: “Things Get Broken”’ and ‘Pax: Communion (“Secret Songs”)’ – are emotionally powerful, even cathartic. It is Bernstein’s centenary, but perhaps more significantly nearly 20 years since his death. Without his outsize presence, his work stands out ever more strongly.

BRIAN MORTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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