Orchestra Wellington review: Carmina Burana, rhythmic and rhythmic, enchants the house
Wellington Orchestra conducted by Marc Taddei with Orpheus Choir, Wellington Young Voices, Queen Margaret College Celesta choir, and Amitai Pati (tenor), Christian Thurston (baritone) and Amelia Berry (soprano). Music by Bartók and Orff. Michael Fowler Center, May 22. Reviewed by Max Rashbrooke.
Full speed ahead, and curse the torpedoes, as the saying goes. It was a Carmina Burana accelerated to a high rate and enthusiastically attacked by the Orchestra Wellington and a supporting cast of (what sounded like) thousands.
A crowded Michael Fowler center was first treated for a brief prelude in the form of Bartók Cantata Profana, played quite discreetly and with none of the soloists, tenor Amitai Pati and baritone Christian Thurston, appearing perfectly at ease.
Things got better, however, with Carmina Burana’s famous opening “O Fortuna”, always an exhilarating moment. The conductor Marc Taddei took the piece faster than I have ever heard it, and very aptly put the percussion – in particular the rat-tat-tat of the drums – in the foreground.
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Sometimes it failed. Carmina Burana’s more pastoral moments should seem languid and sensual; here they just felt rushed. But Taddei’s quick approach meant the momentum never faltered and the job never felt muddy. Harmonically, Carmina Burana is relatively simple; the magic resides in the rhythm and, fortunately, the Wellington Orchestra has perfectly nailed the syncope which gives the work its propulsive energy.
The Orpheus Chorus, meanwhile, was his usual, confident and excellent, almost perfect intonation and well-handled set numbers. Sometimes I thought they could have been more cowardly, less controlled – “You have to stop sounding so English!” as I was once told while rehearsing the play in London.
But in general, their singing was delicious – as was that of the children’s choirs gathered around the orchestral musicians. Everywhere, the interaction between the orchestra, Orpheus and the other choirs was excellent, the exchanges between the large numbers both natural and precise.
As for the soloists, Pati made a brief but extremely memorable appearance as the Roast Swan. Thurston displayed a delicious upper range, but struggled with the different characterizations, his ‘Ego sum abbas’ lacking the required wicked edge. The outstanding performer was probably Amelia Berry, of whom “Stetit puella” and “Dulcissime” were both beautifully controlled.
If I had one general criticism, it’s that Carmina Burana – with its lust, drinking scenes and short-circuiting energy – needs more than just a lively tempo to convey the turbulent, near-madness emotions contained in its lyrics. But the performance ended brilliantly, the wall of her “Ave formosissima” seamlessly blending into a thorny recap of “O Fortuna”. The audience’s applause was sustained – and deserved.