Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Henry Fogel
Fanfare, November 2010

Then we have a powerful, colorful, deeply felt and brilliantly communicative Mass by the Puerto Rican-born Roberto Sierra, in a spectacular performance.

Robert R. Reilly, December 2009

At first I blanched at the idea of Roberto Sierra’s Missa Latina “Pro Pace.” Spare me, I thought, from yet another musical vulgarization of the Mass to show how “street”—current or sensitive to ethnic sensitivities it can be. I was wrong. Yes, there are some Latin rhythms in this Missa, but they are not what make it such a good work. First of all, Sierra takes the text seriously: He is not writing a high school musical (which is about the level of the church music I regularly hear intoned by overly earnest teenagers.) He brings a dramatic seriousness to the texts and, importantly, radiant vocal lines to the soprano and baritone. In fact, this Missa is almost a throwback to the era of high Romanticism. Latin rhythms do enliven things, but they are never pushed to the show-biz level. If only Osvaldo Golijov, the highly vaunted composer of the Latino-flavored Passion according to St. Mark, were writing pieces like this, I would know what all the excitement is about. The performance by the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus and Orchestra is inspiriting (Naxos 8.559624).

Carson Cooman
Fanfare, November 2009

This Naxos release with the Milwaukee Symphony and Andreas Delfs…makes a very strong case for this exciting work. The music is both joyful and poignant and… I believe the Sierra is a far stronger and more inspired piece.

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, September 2009

We are told that organised religion and classical music are institutions under threat in modern society. I find it rather interesting therefore that amongst the discs I have been reviewing recently have been three major contemporary settings of either the Mass or the Requiem Mass by composers from literally different corners of the world with widely differing musical aesthetics. This would seem to suggest the text and indeed the spiritual message behind it still exercises a powerful attraction for composers and indeed listeners whether are practising Christians or not. Likewise, I continue to be both amazed and grateful to Naxos for their ability to record so much remarkable music from around the world in powerful and convincing performances and make it available to music collectors at such a reasonable price. 

The disc here is a perfect case in point. I feel guilty saying it, but I am sure I am not alone, the name of Roberto Sierra was totally unknown to me. So when you combine a complete unknown with a Washington Times review of the first performance of a piece that says; “the most significant symphonic premiere in the District since the late Benjamin Britten’s stunning War Requiem was first performed in the still-unfinished Washington National Cathedral in the late 1960s.” my curiosity was thoroughly piqued. Another laurel to cast at all of the three performances and particularly the creative team on this disc—every aspect of this disc both technical and musical is quite superb. The two soloists were those involved in the first performance reviewed above and they perform with all the authority and conviction that extended familiarity with a piece brings. Seemingly new to this musical feast is The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Chorus…This is the first appearance of the Milwaukee Symphony on Naxos and what a debut it is. Every section of the orchestra plays with power, accuracy and conviction and if for no other reason I will look forward to hearing any disc featuring the orchestra in the future.

In his brief but informative liner-note Roberto Sierra outlines how this work sprung from memories of hearing the Latin Mass while growing up in Puerto Rico. In using the title Missa Latina “Pro Pace” he has chosen to set the standard mass text with additional chants incorporated to underline the votive element in an appeal for peace in a troubled world. The use of Latin-American instruments and rhythms in sections of the Mass emphasises the influence of the country of his birth. This is a substantial work with its seven extended movements running to nearly seventy minutes. It was premiered at Washington’s Kennedy Centre in February 2006. Although it does not say the current performance is a live one I think I detected a couple of extraneous audience noises but as can be implied from that statement they are so slight as to matter not at all. Mentioning the Kennedy Centre is I think significant in two ways; one it underlines the fact that this is clearly a sacred work written for concert performance and also, by chance, that venue was the place for whose opening Leonard Bernstein wrote his Mass some 35 years earlier [available on Naxos 8.559622–23 – Ed]. I can imagine that the thing that makes a composer grind his teeth most is when his unique work is likened to the work of another. Sadly, it is a fact that when hearing a composer for the first time we all use as points of reference music and styles familiar to us. I would not want to labour the point because they are very different works in objective and result but the way in which popular idiom is fused with passages of more searching musical material making the progression through the Mass a theatrical rather than sacred experience is common to both works.

All of the Mass is written in a broadly tonal idiom…If as a result of hearing a disc you wish to seek out more by the composer and performers involved then surely the CD must be deemed a success. So, by that measure this is something of a treasure. I see from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra website that Andreas Delfs is no longer the Music Director of the orchestra—that being the case this is a pretty excellent legacy…Definitely an orchestra to listen out for and I hope they become stalwarts of the Naxos catalogue.

A powerful and individual major work performed with exemplary skill and commitment in superb sound.

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, July 2009

Here is an early entrant for best new composition of the year—Roberto Sierra’s Missa Latina, or Latin Mass, written in 2008 for the National Symphony Orchestra and Leonard Slatkin and here receiving its world-premiere recording. Sierra, originally from Puerto Rico, has a great deal of style-hopping music to his credit; he studied with Ligeti in Europe and has composed works which range in tone from Ligeti’s own experimental sensibilities to folk rhythms and styles of Sierra’s Caribbean homeland. His populist side was previously best illustrated by the Symphony No. 3, appealingly entitled the “Salsa Symphony”—and, indeed, this new mass could be considered the Salsa Mass.

The merger of the salsa and the sacred is signaled by the work’s title, which, as Sierra explains in his helpful but rather terse liner notes, has a double meaning. Missa Latina refers to both Latin—the language of the text—and Latino—the composer’s heritage. Thus much of the work has a strong Caribbean undertow, and the “Latino” side of the work often becomes overt in marvelous salsa-influenced passages with dancing percussion and swinging vocal lines.

The Missa Latina is a big, grand, complex work for soprano, baritone, full chorus, and an orchestra equipped with a large Latino percussion battery. But, despite its length of nearly seventy minutes, this piece is almost never intimidating. The style is eminently approachable, the music is consistently tonal, and generally the work sounds quite attractive…The opening Introitus actually betrays little of the outgoing style of the movements to come; it begins tentatively, the soprano singing with sparse accompaniment. The chorus only joins in halfway through the movement, and, although some of the Latino percussion slithers in near the end, the general mood is dark and uncertain. Heidi Grant Murphy, who sang in the world premiere performance of the Missa Latina, sings with conviction and beautiful tone.

Kyrie is an even more troubled movement, but it also offers a fine example of Sierra’s mixture of the two meanings of “Latina,” since the foreboding, resolutely tune-free atmosphere regularly does battle with spots of folk color—like the delightfully jazzy clarinet line which wends its way through the midsection. At the beginning of Gloria, Sierra finally strikes gold. The newly hopeful—and decidedly nationalistic—atmosphere builds amid Latino percussion and syncopated tunes, up to a truly marvelous passage (“Laudamus te”) for baritone Nathaniel Webster, backed up by a swinging choir and some fantastic orchestral detail (great trumpet licks!). The soprano then answers with a more lyrical interlude, magical in its own right, and the two moods alternate for the rest of this passage, building to a sumptuous close…the Sanctus bursts onto the scene as a triumphant answer to the troubles of earlier movements. This is the heart of the work, a triumphant mix of “Latin” and “Latino” with a dash of Leonard Bernstein for good measure; the final Agnus Dei extends this delight in building to a marvelously affirmative conclusion…Murphy and Webster are superb soloists and their parts are consistent delights, the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus and Orchestra are superb (especially the terrific brass section), and conductor Andreas Delfs, a longtime collaborator with Sierra, gives us an interpretation which is unlikely to be bettered anytime soon. Nearly everyone will be able to enjoy this work…very strongly recommended. Fine new music in a truly dedicated performance.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2009

Born in 1953, Roberto Sierra is one of the growing number of composers working in the United States who have created a modern view of tonality, that style of writing forming the basis for this highly charged Latin Mass. Sierra recalls that he was brought up in a Catholic family in Puerto Rico where he would hear the Mass performed in Latin, which to him was a dead language.  So he here uses the broader context of a ‘Latino’ character, making full use of Caribbean gestures that go back to his Hispanic heritage. That surfaces in the use of exotic percussion instruments and rather jazzy rhythms. Yet, within this framework, it is a work of religious import that uses two singers—soprano and baritone—with a large chorus and full symphony orchestra. Sierra is a superb orchestrator, often intricately weaving instrumental sounds around his singers, the choral writing lyric and fluid. The sleeve note comments that the Sanctus could be turned into a ‘pop’ song, and the duet surely has that catchy tune and rhythm. Resisting any temptation on my part to exaggerate its claim for posterity, I would place it in the top pieces composed in today’s fashionable sacred guise.The two American soloists, Heidi Grant Murphy and Nathaniel Webster, are very good, but it is the outstanding chorus and orchestra, conducted by Andreas Delfs, who take most of the accolades. It presumably comes from a concert performance, and the engineers should be congratulated in securing such a precise balance, textures nicely open and pleasing to the ear.

Stephen Eddins, June 2009

The National Symphony Orchestra commissioned a mass from Roberto Sierra, and the work he produced is dedicated “Pro Pace,” in response to global turmoil. It’s an approachable and ingratiating work, with a strong sense of lyricism, rhythmic energy, and a warm harmonic palette. Sierra incorporates moments with a distinctly Latinate, Caribbean flavor, as he does in many of his works. His treatment of the text and form of the mass is fairly conventional, though, and while it has an easy appeal, it’s hard to avoid the sense that Sierra is playing it safe, that he is pulling back from the edginess that is part of the appeal of some of his other work. It could be argued that he is simply adapting to the essentially traditional approach of some of the great masses of Western music, but the result, while frequently lovely and engaging, lacks a coherently articulated broad musical architecture. In this regard, the 20-minute, single-movement Credo is particularly problematic. The most successful is the melodically straightforward, rhythmically charged Sanctus. The performance is first-rate, with soprano Heidi Grant Murphy and baritone Nathaniel Webster capably handling their large roles. Andreas Delfs leads the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus and Orchestra in committed performances. Naxos’ sound is a little dense, but the balance is good.

David Patrick Stearns
The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2009

Sierra is not bound to any particular storytelling with his setting of the Mass text and, as a result, seems to be throwing in everything he knows—in the boisterously theatrical spirit of Night of the Mayas composer Silvestre Revueltas. Like Golijov, Sierra is irresistible, but in different ways. Sierra writes—sometimes overwrites—for traditional symphonic and choral forces, doesn’t mind going over the top, and even treads the border of kitsch. It’s exhilarating and fun. One Washington Post critic wrote, “I can’t imagine anybody who starts listening to the Missa Latina wanting to turn it off before it’s over.” I couldn’t say it better.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group