FRANK LA ROCCA (b.1951): Mass of the Americas. Benedict XVI Orchestra; Benedict XVI Choir, Richard Sparks.

Catalogue Number: 11Y032

Label: Cappella Romana

Reference: CR425

Format: CD

Price: $19.98

Description: This is a very beautiful, dignified, traditional setting of the Mass intended for liturgical use, in an instantly accessible, tonal idiom guaranteed to communicate directly with any audience or congregation. The composer was commissioned in 2018 by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco for a work to celebrate the Solemnity of The Immaculate Conception and the celebration of the Guadalupana, the festive observance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which occurred in the same week in that year. This inspired a modern equivalent of the paraphrase Mass settings of the Renaissance, in which a plainsong cantus firmus was used as the basis of the music; in this case, La Rocca uses two folk melodies, La Guadalupana and El cantico del alba. The latter, a gentle, beautiful hymn in praise of Mary at dawn is used as an Introit, set with chaste simplicity in two parts, expanded to polyphony at its climax, with a richly orchestrated accompaniment. The orchestral and organ accompaniments are employed tellingly, as here, throughout the Mass, lending a certain monumentality to key climaxes. The sombre Kylie eleison is based on plainchant, intoned by the male voices and polyphonically elaborated by the women's voices. The Gloria is especially powerful, beginning in a mood of solemn, exultant reverence, with a muted, penitential middle section, and a triumphant ending with a blazing statement of the second occurrence of "Jesu Christe" and the final "Amen". The eloquent a cappella Ave Maria is placed next, as the proper of the offertory for the Mass of the Immaculate Conception. The harmony ebbs and flows in texture and degree of dissonance, and the appearance of the soprano solo in the supplication to "pray for us sinners" is deeply moving. Whereas some settings of the Sanctus are exuberantly triumphant, La Rocca's is solemn and reverent, in a mood of profound awe before the Almighty. The intimate, sombre Agnus Dei attests to the sacrificial nature of the Lamb in stately antiphonal polyphony, underpinned by the darkest textures of organ and orchestra. The radiant Ave verum corpus is set in rich harmony and polyphony, expressive of antiquity yet timeless. An a cappella movement, it is illumined by expressive soprano duets. What sets this Mass apart from other traditional musical settings, aside from the introductory hymn, is the remarkably moving inclusion of its other traditional text, a second setting of the Ave Maria, this time in the Aztec language, Nahuatl, that the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe is said to have spoken to St. Juan Diego, set to music in a modal scale, for solo soprano accompanied only by the characteristically South American marimba and solo violin. The Mass concludes with the traditional Marian antiphon Salve Regina, with the familiar melody richly harmonised and accompanied by warm, enfolding instrumental textures. La Rocca provided settings of the other three Marian antiphons for different seasons of the year, each with its character appropriate to the text, and these are tracked separately at the end of the disc. Texts and translations included.

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