Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 5, 2012

Carmina Burana

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
through June 3, 2012
by Michael J. Moran

It was a brilliant stroke by Hartford Symphony Orchestra (HSO) Music Director Carolyn Kuan to pair Dmitri Shostakovich’s somber first Violin Concerto with Carl Orff’s crowd-pleasing “Carmina Burana” on the ninth and final “Masterworks” program in the orchestra’s current season. Audience members who came for the Orff were also treated to a blazing performance of the Russian composer’s rarely heard 1955 masterpiece (this was its HSO premiere).

The soloist was the HSO’s popular Russian-born concertmaster Leonid Sigal, whose deep connection with the music of his compatriot was clear from the hushed but firm tone of his opening notes in the brooding first movement Nocturne. He negotiated the shifting moods of the raucous, klezmer-inflected Scherzo, the intense slow Passacaglia, and the five-minute cadenza into the whirlwind closing Burlesca with emotional depth and virtuoso technique to spare. His colleagues were sensitive accompanists.

The rafters of the Belding Theater all but shook during the spectacular account of Orff’s colorful 1937 “scenic cantata” that followed intermission. “Carmina Burana,” or “Songs from Beuren,” a region of southern Germany, sets 24 poems about medieval life by the wandering “Goliard” poets in their original Latin or old German texts.

The large orchestra played with a marvelous balance of control and abandon, including extra percussion and two pianists, who provided a strong rhythmic undercurrent. The choral singing by the Hartford Chorale and the Connecticut Children’s Chorus was equally fine, from the staccato opening and closing “O Fortuna,” to the softer “Veris Leta Facies” and the playful solo quartet in “Si Puer Cum Puellula.” The swaying male chorus in “In Taberna Quando Sumus” was a hoot!

Tenor Joshua Kohl conveyed the roasting swan’s plight with poignancy and humor. Soprano Amanda Hall landed her high note in “Dulcissime” with clarity and ecstasy, while baritone David Pershall fully inhabited both the tipsy abbot of Cucany and the ardent lover of “Circa Mea Pectora.”

Although texts and translations were included in the program book, projection of English supertitles might have enhanced audience understanding and appreciation. But enthusiastic standing ovations after both pieces suggested that music ultimately speaks louder than words.