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MUSIC REVIEW

By the bay, a passion for originality

Michael Tilson Thomas' 'Resurrection' storms the heavens; Kent Nagano offers a scrappy, earnest 'Missa Solemnis.'

June 21, 2004|Mark Swed | Times Staff Writer

Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" may not be on quite so bold a sonic level, but it too is a staggering affirmation of faith. Although a Mass setting, the work is not about God but man, and it ends with a quietly persuasive call for peace. Nagano put a great emphasis on the here and now by including readings between each section of the Mass, with texts from Greek tragedy and the Bible that raised existential questions. The texts were expertly read by actress Jay Carlin, and accompanied by electronic music written by Edmund J. Campion. The concert in fact opened with Campion's recent "Corail" for tenor saxophone and electronics, lovely lapping sounds played by Stephen Adams.

Nagano sculpted the "Missa Solemnis" with a wonderful sense of line and detail, elegance and expression in perfect balance. His Berkeley orchestra was responsive, but the weakness of the Oakland Symphony Chorus and four soloists (Shana Blake Hill, Miriam Abramowitsch, Bruce Sledge and Philip Skinner) was a significant drawback. Nagano's is a fresh vision, and fresher voices might have made all the difference. But a full house, clearly grateful for the larger vision, didn't seem to care.

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