Opening Concert of Carnegie Hall’s 2012-13 Season – Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Riccardo Muti – Orff’s Carmina Burana

Carmina Burana

Rosa Feola (soprano), Antonio Giovannini (countertenor) & Audun Iversen (baritone)

Chicago Symphony Chorus
Chicago Children’s Choir

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Riccardo Muti

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 3 October, 2012
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Riccardo Muti in Taipei (Taiwan) 2004. © Photograph : ©Silvia Lelli 2004Sandwiched between a pre-concert reception and a post-performance dinner for donors and patrons, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana was the sole work on the program of Carnegie Hall’s opening night gala. Led by music director Riccardo Muti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, its late-September strike having been quickly settled, brought its own chorus and children’s choir to New York, along with three European vocal soloists – Italian soprano Rosa Feola, Italian countertenor Antonio Giovannini and Norwegian baritone Audun Iversen.

Muti’s impassioned reading of Orff’s secular cantata showed off the talents of the orchestra and singers and took full advantage of Carnegie Hall’s brilliant acoustics. The performance was marked by incisive attacks and cut-offs, driving rhythms, and skillful management of dynamics, tempos and rubato, all of which Muti used to add considerable dramatic emphasis.

Riccardo Muti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Ronald O. Perelman Stage of the Isaac Stern Auditorium in Carnegie Hall. Photograph: Chris LeeThe percussion section, playing an unusually broad assortment of bells, cymbals, drums and other instruments, underscored Orff’s often-complex rhythms and added coloration. Principal flutist Mathieu Dufour contributed a number of fine solos, and principal trumpeter Christopher Martin provided glorious crowning touches. The strings were also in excellent form, particularly in the rustic dance that featured violin duets by concertmaster Robert Chen and associate concertmaster Stephanie Jeong, in the stately ‘Reie’, and in the furious pizzicato passage that ushered in the chorus’s ‘Swaz hie gat umbe’.

The Chicago Symphony Chorus sang with crisp elocution throughout, with plenty of power in the bombastic ‘O fortuna’ and the humorous ‘Were diu werlt alle min’, and with contrasting gentleness in ‘Veris leta facies’. The men of the chorus were especially effective in the a cappella ‘Si puer cum puellula’, as was the Chicago Children’s Choir as they joined Feola and Iversen and the chorus in the rollicking, castanet-accompanied, ‘Tempus est iocundum’.

Iversen’s delicate ‘Omnia sol temperat’ was nicely balanced with soft string tremolos, and although he seemed a bit overwhelmed by the orchestra in the rapid-paced ‘Estuans interius’, he more than held his own as the tipsy abbot in ‘Ego sum abbas’. Iversen was at his best in ‘Dies, nox et omnia’, bringing off the change to a low register at the end of each stanza in touching fashion. Giovannini fared less well in ‘Olim lacus colueram’, his countertenor voice (Orff calls for a tenor) lacking the heft needed to project over the orchestra the humorous lament of the roasting swan.

Feola’s glowing soprano was delightful in the ‘Court of Love’ section, beginning with her sinuous solo in ‘Amor volat undique’, which was ably preceded and followed by the children’s choir. She sang with spirit in ‘Stetit puella’ and with delicacy in ‘In trutina’. Her glittering ‘Dulcissime’ was a perfect lead-in to ‘Ave formosissima’, which culminated in the chorus’s glorious apostrophe to ‘Blanziflor et Helena’ just before the reprise of ‘O fortuna’ brought the concert to a close.

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