“Were their texts wordless, the choral works by American composer Mason Bates on the captivating Delos release Mass Transmission would impart engagingly provocative messages, but, like choral music itself, this tunesmith’s music divulges a notable gift for crafting music that not only conveys, complements, and heightens the meanings of words but also facilitates the listener’s comprehension of subtleties that read and spoken words can at best only partially disclose. So spiritually resonant are the pieces on Mass Transmission—and so eloquent are these performances of them—that it almost seems as though this is not music at all. Rather, Bates has made the essence of humanity audible. … The most daunting task faced by an insightful composer is surely that of giving life to relevant narratives with sounds that are at once original, challenging, and convincing. In the music on Mass Transmission, Bates accomplishes that task with grit and grace. …
Vocally and interpretively, soprano Cara Gabrielson and mezzo-soprano Silvie Jensen partner their Cappella SF colleagues excellently, their artistry lending the words the honesty of genuine conversation. Though the musical idioms are very different, the playing of organist Isabelle Demers recalls Marie-Claire Alain’s performances of the music of her brother Jehan, who perished in the Second World War. Her commitment to the music is no less than the composer’s, who here provides the music’s electronica elements. Soloists, choristers, organist, composer, and conductor devote themselves to serving the words and the stories that they tell. These artists are no pantomime players: they are sensitive, sonorous surrogates in whose performances the sentiments that they express become their own.
The emotional potency of Mass Transmission is a testament to Bates’s genius in composing pieces that meaningfully realize the ‘e pluribus unum’ potential of choral music, uniting many individual voices in a single stream of sound, sometimes a deafening deluge and sometimes barely a trickle, that overcomes obstacles of difference and division. … A critically important voice in the chorus of artists whose contributions fostered the success of Mass Transmission is that of recording engineer David v.R. Bowles. A skilled engineer’s goal is to manufacture an aural atmosphere in which his work is imperceptible, eliminating the tangible and intangible distances that isolate listeners from performers. True to his reputation, Bowles achieves this spectacularly on Mass Transmission, but his work on this disc is not merely the science of turning dials and manipulating channels. His is the artistry of a creator, in addition to that of a craftsman, akin to the efforts of a master translator whose translations have their own literary merit. On this disc, Bowles’s expertise yields a recorded ambiance in which Bates’s music seems as organic a part of existence as birdsong, roaring thunder, and whispered words of love and comfort.
There is no question that a composer’s reputation benefits from a recording of the quality of Mass Transmission, but this is not a disc that ostentatiously seeks to impress. Rather, Mass Transmission earnestly seeks to inspire. Mason Bates does not drink his fill from the fountain of inspiration and then turn away. With his music, he fills a chalice and invites every listener to savor the undiluted elixir of choral song.”—Joseph Newsome, Voix des Arts
See the full review on Voix des Arts