Belmont Mass – Christopher Walker
The Gloria (or “Glory to God,” as it is labeled) is fine piece of work. Straightforward, chant-inspired, a bit contemporary. The organ seems a bit like overkill, but that could certainly be a matter of taste. The Sanctus (“Holy”) is very nice as well. The Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) is a bit long and boring, even in the context of a mass described as “Style: Chant.” I did not care for the Our Father at all- it seemed oddly sentimental, and reminded me a bit of the type of choral music in early Disney films (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty). That might just have been the harp.
Overall, this seems like a very nice setting for a parish that likes organ music already, and is trying to move towards a chanted mass but is a bit skiddish about unaccompanied music or has some hostility toward “Chant.” It would also be worthwhile for a parish or small cathedral that wants to sound “High Church,” but simply doesn’t have the time/talent to do a full (SATB) choral setting of the Ordinary.
Excellent work, Mr. Walker.
Mass of Christ the Savior – Dan Schutte
There were three styles of “folk Catholic” that developed during that genre’s heyday. The hum-n-strum guitar stuff from the mid-1970s gets the most attention (positive and negative), and that is the music most closely associated with Dan Schutte. The second style is the faux-Cathedral choral music, which developed more in the mid 1980s, and (if I have my timelines right) peaked in the early 1990s. This Mass setting is firmly rooted in that later development: big choir, organ, trumpets, strings- but still with a very singable melody and a contemporary feel. (The third style is the world-music trend of Iona and late David Haas).
I found this Mass to be very easy to listen to- quite nice musically. It would present a pretty exciting and worthwhile musical challenge to a parish choir not used to a big choral ordinary. It is a bit over-composed, though, and I think it would get really tiring week after week in Ordinary time. Best venue: a large suburban parish that likes contemporary liturgical music, during the Easter Season.
Mass of New Life – Scott Soper
This Mass attempts the style I just described of Dan Schutte’s new Mass, but Soper simply does not handle it well. The tunes are tedious, the harmonizations overwrought, and the orchestration seems schizophrenic. I am not a fan.
Mass of Renewal – Curtis Stephan
This Mass is well written, but I’m a bit conflicted about the style. It’s a big soft-rock ballad, the kind you write when you have a choir of notable celebrities singing about ending the war or believing in yourself. I’m just not sure that’s the rigth atmosphere for the Mass. Beyond that, I simply can’t imagine how anything like an average church can pull this off. Even if you have a full praiseband (hmmm), the scale of the instrumentation and the productino values on the recording basically dooms you to “this doesn’t sound as good as I remember it.”
If you like this sort of thing (and I have to admit that I do), buy the CD and keep it in your car. But don’t inflict it on Sunday worshippers.
Mass of Spirit and Grace – Ricky Manalo, CSP
I have to confess, I have never really cared for Fr. Manalo’s music. Every piece I have ever heard from him has seemed a bit weak, a sort-of lilting, easy to get through music that neither requires nor delivers very much. This Mass feels the same way. A lot of noise, a lot of triple meters, a lot of layers of (probably synthesized) strings and brass and woodwinds which all seem to attempt to distract you from the fact that the melody just isn’t that good.
On a personal note- I spent time in a parish staffed by Paulists (Fr. Manalo’s order). I am quite sympathetic to what seems to be a common progressive theology and ecclesiology among the order. But liturgy at the parish was a disaster. For example (and here’s the tie-in), we did Manalo’s “Come, O Spirit” as the Sequence at Pentecost. This piece, while based on the Sequence text, is not the sequence- it is neither proclamatory (for the congregation to hear the text) nor supplicatory (prayer directed at God), but rather a sort of easy-listening pop-song with a religious text that might give you a warm fuzzy feeling, if you like that sort of thing.
Mass of St. Francis Cabrini – Kevin Keil
I just don’t get this Mass setting. It seems designed to be as boring as stodgy as “folkies” think Chant is, but without being anything like Chant. The organ drones away (not literally) on square-metered minor chords while a choir of what sounds like sad Episcopalians uses their “legitimate voices” to screach out the oh-so-predictable SATB harmonization. I’m not sure who this is written for: the chant and polyphony crowd surely won’t find it solemn enough, and it pretty much exemplifies why the contemporary-music crowd hates the organ. Maybe you can find an Anglican-Use parish that really hates happiness.
Mass of St. Gregory the Great – Luke Mayernik
The name of this setting makes a promise linked to the musical genre with the same namesake. I’m sure Gregorian purists would find much wrong with this setting, but I think it’s got a lot of promise.
The Kyrie (in Greek!) opens with just the slightest flavour of Renaissance polyphony, and then proceeds into chant-inspired, but wholly contemporary in feeling, choral writing with very decent organ accompaniment. The Gloria went on a bit too long, and I don’t understand what seemed like made-up words for the Lenten Gospel Acclamation. The acclamations for the Eucharistc Prayer are lovely, but I have a hard time imagining an “average” choir doing a particularly good job. Same with the Agnus Dei, which reminds me a lot of the popular British choral writing of the 1970s and 80s (John Rutter).
The real gem here is the Kyrie, and there’s no reason you couldn’t do just that with another setting for the rest of the Ordinary.
Mr. Mayernik is young (about my age, I think) and I’m sure that his output in the coming years will be stellar, especially as the Kyrie here hints at what I hope will be a way to musically bridge the “old guard” (contemporary music, progressive theology) with the new movement in the Church (traditional music and liturgical orthopraxis).
Mass of St. John – Bobby Fisher
This has the out-dated “folk mass” feel that even the most of the folkies are starting to get tired of. The Gloria sounds, quite literally, like the rousing opening number of a theme-park pavilion show. (You know it’s going to be bad when the snare drum hit is the first sound of a track). The Gospel Acclamation sounds the same as the Gloria (exactly the same). The Lenten Gospel Acclamation feels as far removed from Lent as I can imagine.
The theme-park pavillion show thing pretty much sums up the entire experience, including the changing of style and feel as the Mass goes on, to match the “placement” of each piece in time, corresponding to a typical musical/emotional arc of a theatre piece. A deft music director could select just the right four songs to go along with this, and you’d almost have a whole production for Sunday.
Mass of St. Paul the Apostle – Christopher Walker
This setting simply does not work nearly as well as the other Walker setting reviewed above. It’s in the faux-Cathedral style I mentioned for the Schutte setting, which Walker helped pioneer. He has a much better control of the genre than Mr. Soper, but this setting suffers from some overwrought choral writing and an ill-advised attempt to emulate dance rhythms. One of the things that really confuses me is the insistence that this Mass (like ALL settings from the major publishers) is geared for congregational singing and “active participation.” No one who writes contemporary music seems to want to admit, “I wrote a concert Mass.” With a change in emphasis, the basic materials of this setting could have been a really good concert Mass setting. As it is, it doesn’t do that or congregational singing very well.
Mass of the Resurrection – Randall DeBruyn
Yet another almost-High-Church setting. I’m starting to think OCP is picking up a trend toward more “worthy” music for Mass.Like the Mass of St. Paul the Apostle above, I think the composer (or the marketing department) is fooling itself into thinking that a congregation will sing this easily. It seems all the world to be a lot of well-crafted noise, with a lot of correctly-written harmonies and brass parts and all the things you’re supposed to have in a big festival-styled Cathedral Mass. But it sounds uninspired and boring.
Mass of St. Cecilia / Misa Santa Cecelia – Estela García-López & Rodolfo López
I always wonder if Spanish-speaking Catholics really want mariachi music at Mass. It seems somewhat reductive and insulting to foist this on a congregation, but who knows- it could be exactly what they want. I doubt it, though. Especially this cleanly-produced and oh-so-preciously orchestrated recording that sounds like high-quality children’s music. (A side question might be- Why does Children’s music have to sound like that?)
The Kyrie was the only piece of interesting music in this setting, and I would have been interested in hearing a Mass with the plaintive, chant-like folk singing found therein. Instead, it’s mostly Mexican band-in-a-box: as spiritually enriching as Vacation Bible School, and as culturally authentic as public school cafeteria Taco Tuesday.
Seriously some hits and misses here, but overall it seems that OCP has a better handle on getting quality Mass settings published than GIA does. I find the incessant pseudo-High-Church style to be a funny trend (epseically when you listen to several settings in a row), but one that may eventually lead toward bridging the gap between the liturgical music traditionalists and progressives. I will continue to say, though, that I don’t think any of these settings are a good choice for the First Sunday of Advent, 2011. The ICEL chants, unaccompanied, are your best bet, regardless of your parish resources, preferences, or demographics.