Sisi Burn, photo

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

These closely contemporaneous choral works – 1930 (Psalms) and 1935-36 – both require two pianos, to which Carl Orff scores for multi-choruses, three vocal soloists and a large orchestra replete in every department, not least percussion, whereas Stravinsky is frugal: one choir and an orchestra without violins, violas and clarinets. Kazuki Yamada, settling in nicely it seems as CBSO chief conductor, was a little brusque with the opening of Symphony of Psalms, written for Boston and Koussevitzky; this tendency and a vibrant City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus (plus the children – an addition allowed for by the composer) softened the music’s severity – not necessarily an advantage – and the second movement featured expressive woodwinds if favouring to force the choral tone, the sacredness of the music only fully arriving in the final movement, contrasted by fast/rhythmic passages that were a little rough and ready tonally, although sublimity had the final (Latin) word, luminously.

Carmina Burana: Cantiones profanae cantoribus et choris cantandae comitantibus instrumentis atque imaginibus magicis is secular, hedonistic, bookended by the wheel of fortune, the also-Latin settings being of debauchery, drunkenness, gambling, free love, and seasonal renewal, the green shoots of Spring. Yamada kept things on the move, sometimes rushing, although he could go the other way and be unduly lingering, yet for the most part this was an energetic, lively, picturesque and pulsating account, the performers giving their all. Only one of the Proms Guide-listed vocal soloists made the concert, Germán Olvera quite splendid, numerous characters to portray. A regular tenor was expected; instead countertenor Matthias Rexroth turned up, not what Orff asks for, although it’s become a fad lately to employ one for the singular song about a swan, which means there is less vocal strain while the bird is roasted, whereas Orff surely intended a genuine tenor to struggle for the top notes while flames lick around the dinner-table-destined fowl – on Eugen Jochum’s 1968 composer-supervised DG recording the tenor is Gerhard Stolze. Maki Mori was radiant and inviting, and the return of ‘O Fortuna’, following the paean of praise that is ‘Ave formosissima’, was made inevitable – life’s cycle begins again; no escape until the final curtain.

Maki Mori – Soprano
Matthias Rexroth – Countertenor
Germán Olvera – Baritone
City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, Youth Chorus and Children’s Choir
University of Birmingham Voices