Review: Mass of St. Philip Neri, part the second

Paul Jernberg

In the second installment of my review I have to remind any readers that our employment of Mass of SPN is also mitigated by some omissions of various movements. Paul’s Gospel Acclamations are one of those, as well as his Amen. I have an affection for our friend Chuck Giffen’s “Ascensionis” settings of those movements.
One of the aspects that I’ve noticed in larger, more orchestrated Mass settings and musician-rich parishes is an inclination to employ grandiose instrumental introductions to the Sanctus, and to a lesser extent the Memorial and Amen acclamations. The key word to remember is acclamation. One of the best changes in MR3 was the last imperative word of the Preface,  “acclaim!” That means “Better  start PDQ, Mr. Bach, it’s an ACCLAMATION!”  So, whether by a simple hum by the dirigent, a brief chordal iteration of Tonic F via organ, or the first half phrase of the Jernberg “Holy” by organ, that propulsion or momentum I mention in the “Glory” is even more present here. I believe the richness of the “orthodox-ian” homophony is found more in the rhythmic movement that’s glove-in-hand tight. And even without time signatures but with traditional note values, to me the phrases come off the tongue more like chant than hymn. The same harmonic construct between relative Major to minor is used with precision nearing perfection. I suggest that the tenors in the first phrase and last phrase use the high F because it enhances a closed position triad very effectively. And  if you have enough soprani, or a few children trebles, there’s a pedal C hum (or “ooh”) that craftily enters on “est” of the first “highest,” and it glides over the Benedictus so sweetly until the last “Hosanna.” And, of course, the director can use different rubatos for the final cadence with that lovely suspension/release in the altos.

For the Memorial acclamation, again it should start immediately after “in memory of me.” We use Accl. “C,” “Save us…..”  It is compact, and the terrace effect from phrase one to two to final three (“You have set us free”) is easily acquired. But the most wonderful effect is adding just a bit of detaché before cueing the word “free” with a tad of cres/decres. or even another lowering of volume.

We do not generally sing the Our Father in our parishes, pastoral edict. But the setting in this Mass is one of the most beautiful and worthy to replace either the MR3 Gregorian, the Snow or the Pater Noster.

Lastly, that paradoxical effect of sweet tenderness that seems the natural ethos of so many Agnus Dei settings is certainly operating in this Mass. The simple chordal progression of “vi (Dm) – V/vi (A)- V (C)- I (F  on “world”) with the reply “ii- V/visus4-V (As-A on “us”)  is introduced, and then again terraced upon for the second phrase, but with the phrase ending using the suspended V of I (Cs-C) as essentially a deceptive cadence. Then the third phrase still uses the same rhythmic assignments, but starting on tonic I (F) moving to a somewhat dramatic unprepared suspension in the tenors (“God) to V/vi (A) which leads to “vi” which abets the final statement of “sins of the world” via the minor tonality. Then comes the reward, “Grant us peace” with old standby “ii- Vs-V-I.” And the same affect if you stretch or have a whit of space after “us” to “peace” is simply heavenly.

James Michael Thompson
Again, the audio CD/download is an even better way to audition this most worthy of Masses in decades, and post MR3, as every sacred word including the lections is sung, and some choice classic polyphonic motets adorn the proper processions. Bravo, maestro’s.