Thursday, October 31, 2013

Carmina Burana For Halloween

There were no witches, ghosts or goblins on the Roy Thomson Hall stage this October 31.  Just a group of people dressed up as musicians, with none pretending to be something they aren't.  This Halloween the TSO was more formal, performing three works that culminated with "Carmina Burana".  It seems like this has been programmed recently by all the other orchestras I follow, so I was anxiously awaiting the chance to hear it.  It was so good I tried to get tickets to go again, but the Saturday night was sold out.

The evening started with the audience being wished a "Happy Hallowe'en, if such a thing is appropriate" by maestro Peter Oundjian.  "Dances from Powder Her Face" by British composer Thomas Ades, received it's Canadian premiere to open the concert.  It had just enough lyrical bits to outweigh it being another odd contemporary piece.  It's one I could sit through again.  Oundjian mentioned in his introduction that it had some tango moments in the style of Astor Piazzolla which I was listening for.  There were a few near the end, although brief enough that just when you're looking forward to it going somewhere, it changed and disappeared.

Music by Benjamin Britten seems to be popular everywhere this season since it would be his 100th
Phan and Deland (Photo by Josh Clavir)
birthday.  Tenor Nicholas Phan (who would return again in "Carmina Burana") and TSO Principal Horn, Neil Deland, were the soloists in "Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings".  The piece is sung in English to six poems by various writers including "Pastoral" by Charles Cotton, "Nocturne" by Alfred Lord Tennyson, "Elergy" by William Blake, and "Sonnet" by John Keats.  The styles varied and I really liked the opening and closing horn solos, which were played beautifully.

Finally after intermission, what I had been waiting for.  The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir filled the loft and launched into the opening "O Fortuna" with power.  How could you not with a full orchestra and two concert grand pianos on stage!  I hadn't read the text before and had no idea it was actually broken up into three segments (Spring, In the Tavern, and The Courts of Love) after the opening Fortune, Empress of the World.  The sections within the segments range from powerful and deep, to the somewhat silly "The Roast Swan Sings" (although maybe there's something profound I'm missing).  Phan added a few gestures that provided a humerous interlude to lighten what is otherwise a pretty serious piece.
TSO and soloists (
Joining Phan were soprano Valenina Farcas and baritone James Westman.  The baritone seemed to have the most to do and all had awesome voices.  Today we hardly bat an eye at some of the text regarding drinking and love, however I would think that in the 12th and 13th centuries when the manuscripts, from which the lyrics are taken, were written there would have been a different reaction.  Although a lot can get by in the name of art.

Hopefully the TSO brings this piece back again soon.  I know I'd love to hear it again!

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