Music review: the RSNO perform Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein
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Like the man himself, Leonard Bernstein’s Mass is a quizzical complexity of style, content and discourse. Written for the opening of New York’s Kennedy Centre in 1971, against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, it is a tempestuous child of its time. As such, it has always seemed flawed; more curiosity than masterpiece. Saturday’s ambitious semi-staged presentation by the RSNO, its junior and male choruses, America’s Absolute Trio, a feisty cast of music theatre students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland as the attitudinal street chorus, and the magnetic all-purpose baritone Jubilant Sykes as the centrifugal Celebrant, all under Kristjan Järvi’s inspired direction, reaffirmed these views, but equally justified the case for its compelling fascination.

Music review: the RSNO perform Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

As the taped opening music struck up, Järvi sauntered on, shaking hands with his orchestra. Sykes opening “Laude, Laude” established a charismatic presence that would dominate the entire show.

The street chorus entered through the audience, ready to provoke with their antagonistic questioning of faith, a confident and resonating Billy Gollner standing out among the many soloists.

The RSNO choruses sang lustily, if a little self-conscious when egged into swinging physical action. Treble soloist Tom Marland soared magnificently in the closing moments. But mostly, this was an invigorating night of surprises and delights. Mass is flawed, but it’s fun.