Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 14, 2018

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony, Carmina Burana: Festival of Fate

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
June 8-10, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

For the concluding “Masterworks series” program of the HSO’s 74th season, Music Director Carolyn Kuan presented three diverse works, each of which, in contrasting ways, celebrates life.

The brief concert opener was Anna Clyne’s festive “Masquerade,” commissioned by the BBC and premiered at London’s Promenade concerts in 2013. In the absence of program notes, Kuan called on concertmaster Leonid Sigal and the orchestra in a spoken introduction to introduce the 5-minute piece’s several dance-like themes. Their performance of this colorful score by the rising young British-born composer was appropriately exuberant.

Lisa Williamson
The first half of the program continued with Samuel Barber’s haunting memory piece for soprano and orchestra, “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.” Setting excerpts from American writer James Agee’s memoir A Death in the Family about his Tennessee childhood, Barber wrote it in 1947 for soprano Eleanor Steber. A reduced HSO and Kuan offered lush backing to soprano Lisa Williamson’s crystalline-voiced account of the nostalgic text.

But the main attraction of this concert came after intermission: a jubilant rendition of Carl Orff’s massive “Carmina Burana,” a cycle of 24 songs for soprano, tenor, and baritone soloists and two choruses. The Latin title means “Songs of Beuren,” the site of an abbey near Orff’s native Munich, where about 200 thirteenth-century poems were discovered over a century before he set a selection of them in 1936 to original music, according to the program book, of “a sinewy, electric muscularity that is driven by an almost primeval rhythmic energy.”

The hour-long cantata begins and ends with the fatalistic “O Fortune,” surrounding three sections which revel in the pleasures of spring, drinking, and love. Highlights included: tenor David Guzman’s hilarious impersonation of a swan being cooked for a meal; baritone Tyler Duncan’s vividly drunken abbot; and Williamson’s radiant “Dulcissime,” where she nailed the highest note in the score as she embraced her lover. The Hartford Chorale and the Connecticut Children’s Chorus sang with vigor and precision, fervently supported by orchestra and conductor.

Full printed texts and translations for the Barber and Orff pieces capped as grand a season finale as Hartford has seen in some time.