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Preview: Carmina Burana makes for vivid night of Toronto Mendelssohn Choir song at Koerner Hall

By John Terauds on November 13, 2012

Soloists Michael Nyby and Lesley Bouza in dress rehearsal with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and conductor Noel Edison at Koerner Hall on Tuesday (John Terauds iPhone photo).

If Tuesday night’s dress rehearsal is any indication, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s Wednesday performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana should make for a powerful evening of music.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

The music from the most popular piece ever written by German composer Carl Orff (1895-1982) has been used in film and television and all sorts of advertising because of its raw power. Today, 75 years after its premiere in Frankfurt, Orff’s collection of 24 songs and poems found in a Benedictine abbey still packs a visceral punch.

The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s performance, the latest of many over its long history, added the beauty of three excellent soloists, some wonderfully subtle shaping by conductor and artistic director Noel Edison, and a nicely executed accompaniment by pianists James Bourne and Michel Ross as well as the TorQ Percussion Quartet.

In the intimate, acoustically lively Koerner Hall, a full orchestra is completely unnecessary for this piece to deliver its full impact. Fortunately, Orff provided this reduced arrangement for exactly this sort of occasion.

Baritone Michael Nyby ably negotiated the many challenges of his vocal part, which stretches up into the tenor stratosphere many times while also requiring stentorian masculinity. Tenor Christopher Mayell had a lot of fun with the swan’s dying lament as he is roasted on a spit.

Soprano Lesley Bouza was nothing short of magnificent in her solos, which come during the more poetic love section towards the end of Carmina Burana.

The choir itself was in great form, crisply delivering its rhythmically driven contributions with a nicely balanced sound.

The evening’s programme is fleshed out by two pieces by popular contemporary composers, who both reminded us how difficult it is to match anything with Orff’s magnum opus.

British composer Jonathan Dove’s The Passing of the Year, a 12-year-old weaving together of poetry that touches on the neverending cycle of life and death, uses a similar two-pianos-and-percussion accompaniment. But while there are many beautiful moments in this music, the choral parts are often very fussy and sounded messy, despite Edison’s best efforts.

The trouble is, Dove lets his clever ideas get in the way of the flow of the text several times.

The other piece on the programme is Cloudburst, the piece that made American composer and conductor Eric Whitacre’s name while he was still a student, 20 years ago. Associate conductor Matthew Otto did a fine job in shaping the sound from a select group of Mendelssohn Choir members, but the overall performance lacked a bit of finesse.

Placed at the start of the evening, these two extra pieces not only provide a glimpse on the current state of the popular choral writer’s art, they do help make the case for Carmina Burana‘s continued prominence in our collective choral experience.

It all makes for a night of singing that should stick in memory for a nice, long time.

For all the details on Wednesday night’s concert, click here.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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