A lively ‘Carmina Bu­rana’ from the BSO

Per­for­mance fea­tures col­or­ful cho­ruses, soloists

Baltimore Sun - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Tim Smith The con­cert re­peats at 8 at Mey­er­hoff Sym­phony Hall, 1212 Cathe­dral St. Call 410-783-8000, or go to bso­mu­sic.org. tim.smith@balt­sun.com

Carl Orff’s ex­u­ber­ant can­tata “Carmina Bu­rana” has pretty much held the pub­lic en­thralled since its pre­miere in 1937. That the first au­di­ence hap­pened to be in Nazi Ger­many gives some of us pause — em­i­nent mu­si­col­o­gist Richard Taruskin once re­ferred to the piece as “the orig­i­nal ‘Spring­time for Hitler.’”

But the work’s raw power — all those earthy me­dieval texts about fate, spring, booze and sex, set to re­it­er­a­tive, per­cus­sive mu­sic — is easy to un­der­stand, easy to em­brace. No won­der parts of the score re­peat­edly turn up in movies and TV com­mer­cials. And Bal­ti­more Sym­phony Or­ches­tra pro­grams.

This week, for the third time in eight years (most re­cently in 2013), the BSO of­fers “Carmina Bu­rana,” con­ducted by mu­sic direc­tor Marin Al­sop. Join­ing in the per­for­mances are two steady, well-honed en­sem­bles — the Bal­ti­more Cho­ral Arts So­ci­ety and Pe­abody Chil­dren’s Cho­rus — and three stylish vo­cal soloists.

Al­sop was at her fa­mil­iar best Thurs­day night at the Mu­sic Cen­ter at Strathmore, Bari­tone Elliot Madore brought a hon­eyed tim­bre and de­lec­ta­ble phras­ing to “Carmina Bu­rana.” as­sur­ing an over­all propul­sive mo­men­tum but show­ing great rhyth­mic flex­i­bil­ity along the way. She brought out sub­tle dy­namic con­trasts (the pi­anis­simo at the end of “Floret silva no­bilis” was par­tic­u­larly beau- ti­ful) and many a sub­tle de­tail of in­stru­men­tal col­or­ing, as well.

The BSO re­sponded ex­pres­sively, if not al­ways cleanly. Oc­ca­sional smudges, es­pe­cially in the horns dur­ing the “Chramer, gip die varwe mir” pas­sage, star­tled the ear. But they were sub­se­quently bal­anced out by spot-on brass work in “Were diu werlt alle min’” and gor­geous string play­ing dur­ing the score’s lyri­cal mo­ments.

Im­pres­sive clar­ity — with ev­ery con­so­nant given its due — and a smooth, hearty tone char­ac­ter­ized the Cho­ral Arts con­tri­bu­tions. In their brief ap­pear­ance, the chil­dren’s voices floated out sweetly.

The evening got a ter­rific lift from bari­tone Elliot Madore, whose hon­eyed tim­bre and de­lec­ta­ble, spon­ta­neous phras­ing made ev­ery word reg­is­ter. His col­or­ful sing­ing would alone make a great rea­son to catch the re­main­ing per­for­mance to­day.

On Thurs­day, Madore reached quite a peak of tonal sex­i­ness in “Om­nia sol tem­perat” and “Dies, nox et om­nia”; he proved equally ef­fec­tive ar­tic­u­lat­ing the ram­blings of a drunken cleric in “Ego sum ab­bas.”

There was also much to sa­vor in so­prano Anna Christy’s so­los, de­liv­ered with a warm, Ital­ianate vi­brancy of tone and ex­pres­sion.

Tenor Matthew Plenk charged boldly into the song about a roasted swan. He got burned by some of the cruel high notes, but com­mu­ni­cated the text vividly.

The con­cert opened with the world pre­miere of a BSO cen­ten­nial com­mis­sion, “Un­sung” by Lori Lait­man. The brief work spot­lights sev­eral in­stru­ments, es­pe­cially wood­winds, that don’t al­ways get a chance to shine. Their so­los are cush­ioned by plush, dark string har­monies in what the com­poser de­scribes as “a song with­out words.”

It doesn’t last quite long enough to make a rich im­pres­sion, but it’s a pretty, well­crafted score. Al­sop led a smooth ac­count of it.

This sea­son, the BSO is putting an em­pha­sis on the mu­sic of Igor Stravin­sky, start­ing this week with his “Sym­phony in Three Move­ments.”

Writ­ten dur­ing World War II and widely con­sid­ered a re­ac­tion to that con­sum­ing con­flict, this craggy work has a rest­less, al­most nail-bit­ing en­ergy.

Al­sop’s ap­proach could have used even more ten­sion and jolt, but her em­pha­sis on struc­ture paid off.

She drew a tight re­sponse from the BSO, es­pe­cially from the wood­winds; note, too, Lura John­son’s crisp play­ing of the piv­otal pi­ano part. tonight


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