'Carmina' Performers Team Up For 'Howling Success'

April 14, 1992|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

At the U.S. Naval Academy on Sunday afternoon, the officers did not sound a bit like gentlemen, and "Carmina Burana," Carl Orff's lusty 20th-century cantata, was the better for it.

The medieval texts of the Goliards, an itinerant band of students, defrocked monks and beggars, inspired Orff to create one of the great modern period works.

"Carmina" requires major league choristers capable of communicating the spirit of these renegade texts with unbridled passion, as wellas woodwind, brass and percussion sections of true virtuosity and three gifted soloists.

All in all, Sunday's Alumni Hall performance which featured the USNA Women's Glee Club, singers from Goucher, Haverford and Bryn Mawr colleges, plus the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra under the direction of John Barry Talley, was a howling success.

"Carmina" is no easy work to negotiate from the podium and Talley's account was an unexaggerated, thoroughly musical, altogether ripping traversal of the score. Tempos in the opening odes to fortune ("O Fortuna" and "Fortune Plango") were nicely restrained to highlight the ominous texts while the "Springtime," "Tavern" and "Courtly Love" sequences juxtaposed reckless abandon with the otherworldly insights of the medieval mind just as the composer intended them to.

The midshipmen and their colleagues from Goucher and Haverford sang exceptionally well. The male chorus frequently dominates "Carmina Burana" and Talley's lads were up to the task. They sang with bristling energy, excellent diction and an elan that communicated vividly to the audience.

The women, too, were excellent. Sequences at "Floret Silva" ("The forest all around is in flower") and "Minnet, tugentliche man" ("Love, all you right thinking men") were particularly admirable.

The symphony also contributed extremely well. Trumpets and flutes were impressive as were the horns and trombones. The percussion section must have worked out many a frustration. Orff keeps them so active.

Strings sounded adept but small. A mere 15 violins, five violas and six cellos were on hand, so it's not surprising that balance was an occasional problem.

"Carmina" is a bear to keep in tune and intonation, for the most part, was fine in all sections. How nice to hear the ASO perform in a real hall instead of that upholstered monstrosity in which it usually plays.

The three soloists, alas, comprised the only weak link of this "Carmina Burana."

Robert Kennedy is a stylish baritone who sang the "Omnia sol temperat" and other lyrical interludes with his usual aplomb. His Abbot ("Ego sum abbas") was great fun in all his stuttering splendor. But, Kennedy just lost it completely in the "Estuans interius," overmatched by Orff's murderously high vocal writing. He was forced to retreat into a hooting falsetto that was nowhere near what the composer demands.

Soprano Debra Lawrence possesses a terrific instrument but, when onstage, looks and sounds as though she wishes she were somewhere else. Let's give credit where it's due: There are precious few sopranos who can pump out the high D's in "Dulcissime" and Lawrence did so nicely. But in "Stetit puella" and elsewhere in Part 3, this listener kept waiting for something interesting to happen -- and it never did.

Undoubtedly, tenor Richard Turner communicated the agony of the roasting swan ("Olim lacus colueram"), but higher-pedigreed tenors can do so in more full-voiced fashion,minus the ungainly falsetto.

Another star of this performance wasAlumni Hall. This is truly a hospitable space in which to perform and without it, this "Carmina Burana" would never have seen the light of day. The Naval Academy Chapel would have reduced this incisive score to mush.

This must have been particularly exciting for the conductor on personal grounds as well. Talley conducted his daughter, soprano Sara Talley of the Bryn Mawr College Women's Ensemble, in the Naval Academy's biggest concert of the year. "O Fortuna" indeed!

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