PHIL KLINE: John the Revelator: A Mass for Six Voices – Lionheart/ Ethel/ Phil Klein, organ – Cantaloupe

by | Jul 17, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

PHIL KLINE: John the Revelator: A Mass for Six Voices – Lionheart/ Ethel/ Phil Klein, organ – Cantaloupe 21047, 49:19 ****:  [Distrib. by Harmonia mundi]

This unique mass setting (Is it really a mass? This reminds me of Leonard Bernstein’s work of the same name when he said that it “is and is not a real mass”) uses, as with the Bernstein, a concept where the normal parts of the mass are written for chorus alone, while the Propers—taken from such disparate sources as “Blind” Willie Johnson’s John the Revelator to the American poet David Shapiro, to Samuel Beckett’s monologue The Unnamable, to treatments of two early American shape-note hymns from the The Sacred Harp: Northport and Wondrous Love—are more personal in nature. This is of course a vastly religious and semi-political work (inasmuch as the ashes floating down from 9/11 are invoked in Kline’s website notes), but on an intensely private level.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this or not, feeling that eclectic pieces—and this one is admittedly that—fail far too often. Kline unabashedly makes use of his influences, or rather, the music he likes (are eclectics really influenced by anything? I am not sure), but he finds a way of making it all work. Perhaps it is simply his idea of consistent ensemble use that gives the piece it’s glue, I don’t know, but whatever the technique is—and we can’t be sure that it isn’t something as simple as pure inspiration translated into concrete form—he has definitely accomplished his goal of a unified work within a normalized and traditional structure. Again, Bernstein’s Mass must be given some credit.

Lionheart sings very well for the most part, though I did notice that there are a few places where the solo lines are struggling a little to maintain proper pitch, almost as if the person is not sure what the exact pitch should be, but overall it is excellently done. Ethel, an alternative string quartet, handles Kline’s patchwork quilt of ideas with aplomb. The recorded sound is far too close – losing some of the tonal luster that I am sure both of these ensembles possess. And hey, Cantaloupe, the next time you want to present a fine new contemporary work, be so good as to enclose the texts, would you? As a reader service, I am doing so below, without permission, as found on the company website.

…I shall not be alone, in the beginning. I am of course alone. Alone. That is soon said. Things have to be soon said. And how can one be sure, in such darkness?

[
*From The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett. Copyright 1957, 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1970, 1973, 1976 by Samuel Beckett. Originally written in French as L’Innommable, published by Editions de Minuit. Used by permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc., on behalf of the author.]

12. Sanctus & Benedictus



13. Song: Everywhere (words by David Shapiro) 

In my cup 
In the thin snow 
In front of your window
In the window sky
In the blue distance
In the scattered doors 
In the pool near your room 
In the shadow on the highway 
In every quarter of the evening land 
In the staves of the sky 
I seem to hear your voice



14. Agnus Dei



15. Wondrous Love (words from Dupuy’s Hymns and Spiritual Songs, 1811, tune by James Christopher, 1840) 

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul! 
What wondrous love is this, O my soul! 
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul. 
When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down, 
When I was sinking down, sinking down, 
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown, 
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul. 
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
 To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
 To God and to the Lamb Who is the great "I Am";
While millions join the theme, I will sing. 
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on; 
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
 And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be; 
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.

— Steven Ritter

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