La Rocca: Mass of the Americas - Sparks
Cappella Records CR425
Classical - Vocal
La Rocca: Mass of the Americas
Benedict XVI Choir and Orchestra
Richard Sparks (conductor)
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - December 11, 2022
The best of two worlds? Yes, and in many ways.
To mark the coincidence of two important Roman Catholic feasts in the same Anno Domini 2018, the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship commissioned the American composer, Frank La Rocca, to “craft with music what the Franciscan friars of the Mission Era had crafted with church architecture: at once keeping with Catholic sacred traditions and reflecting contributions of local culture—both timeless and timely”. To this end, The Mass of the Americas covers not only the celebration of the Immaculate Conception in California and the celebration of the Guadalupana, the festive observance of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico but also seeks to combine religious (folk) traditions in both. The result was recorded at the beginning of this year at the intimate beauty of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York City.
At a first - unbiased - listen, that is, before the liner notes tell me what to hear, it struck me, how Frank La Rocca has managed to catch and combine elements of traditional religious chant in a homogeneously crafted modernistic frame with such deeply felt emotional grace. Its beauty is impressively powerful. My interest being thoroughly aroused I turned to reading the composer’s note for a better understanding of its musical concept. Listening for a second time, my admiration deepened. Whereas Medieval Gregorian Chant can be monotonous to the ears of many, in this Mass of the Americas La Rocca has cleverly added styles and harmonies to arrive at a result that will not fail to surprise and win over even the most critical music lover.
For those who want to delve deeper into the technical merits of how La Rocca has bridged “several traditional points of division” between two worlds, William P. Mahrt, professor of Medieval and Renaissance music at Stanford University, shares his detailed scholarly views with the listener.
However, a product can be as exceptional as it is, the quality of execution is the key to its ultimate glory. Richard Sparks, soloists, and the Benedict XVI Choir and Orchestra deserve all the credits. There are several highly accomplished religious choirs in the United States and Benedict XVI certainly is one of them. Under the inspirational baton of Richard Sparks the different parts of the Mass come to life with focussed choral singing and compelling solo parts. The orchestral playing, too, is not only most supportive but also lends glowing weight to the overall performance.
At Cappella Records, nothing is left to chance. The Soundmirror producer, Blanton Alspaugh, together with Recording Engineer, John Newton, and the Mixing & Mastering Engineer, Mark Donahue, ensure that the (surround) sound is of the usual high standard, with one minor thing though: The sound of silence in a church is not the same as no sound. This is noticeable between the tracks.
In conclusion: Frank La Rocca’s Mass of the Americas is as timeless as it is timely - thus succeeding with flying colours in the commission - and Richard Sparks and Company are its truly authentic interpreters.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
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