Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce, five stars

IN some respects Leonard Bernstein’s epic MASS is, as my mother would say, “a load of old toot”. For the first 40 minutes of this, the first professional performance in Scotland of the 1971 work, it seemed that might be all there was to say on the matter, regardless of the musicianship on the night. As conductor Kristjan Jarvi and baritone Jubilant Sykes made their way on stage during the taped intro, glad-handing as they went, the audience was unsure how to react, and even with half a dozen rows of the stalls removed to extend the stage, when the cohort of Musical Theatre students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland arrived from the back of the auditorium things began to look messily crowded in Susie Dumbreck’s staging.

Somehow, however, the megalithic mess that is Bernstein’s MASS drew you into its post-sixties hippy embrace, despite the fact that it veers crazily between being a Billy Graham evangelical crusade and nigh-blasphemous Judeo-Christian parody of scripture and liturgy. Bernstein wants to have it all ways (stop sniggering at the back there) and due in no small part to his librettist Stephen Schwartz, whose hit musical Godspell it resembles as often as it echoes West Side Story, he almost gets way with it.

What tipped the balance here was the sheer quality of the performances across the board. Sykes has travelled the world singing the Celebrant and was superb, although he and the RCS Street Chorus were (necessarily) miked up. Boy treble Tom Marland had clearly been attentive during rehearsals and matched his new role model for charisma as well as singing beautifully. His peers in the Junior Chorus shone on the Sanctus and the grown-ups next door in the choir stalls displayed some gospel tonsils we didn’t know they had.

The RCS cohort were impressive both collectively and individually - particularly soprano Beth Ann Stripling and tenor Billy Gollner, while their instrumental colleagues augmented an orchestra on top Broadway form. Special mention should go to principal trombone Davur Juul Magnussen for his seriously funky solo and well-drilled big band section.