REVIEW: Carmina Burana: big, bold and beautiful

Anita Perry reviews the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra's latest performance of Carmina Burana.

  • May. 12, 2016 3:00 p.m.

It was a weekend of exhilarating music performed by the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra in their final Carmina Burana concert. This evening of big, bold and beautiful music was the perfect way to end the OSO’s 2015-2016 Masterworks Series.

American composer John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Car provided a breathtaking opening to this exciting concert.  True to the minimalist movement as defined by the works of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, this piece utilizes a largely tonal approach, focusing on repeated material in the form of ostinato. The music captured the thrill of speed and constant motion through a series of minimal harmonic changes, all against the wood block’s steady pulse of miles clicking steadily away.

Sergi Rachmaninoff’s O Cease thy Singing, Fair Maiden for string orchestra, solo violin obbligato and tenor  followed. Performed by Denis Letourneau on violin and his son Nathan as tenor soloist, this was a poignant moment as this performance weekend marks the end of Denis’s 39 year tenure as concert master for the Okanagan Symphony. A tireless promoter of arts throughout the Okanagan, Denis was awarded the 2008 Okanagan Arts Award in recognition for his contribution to cultural life in the Okanagan. It was a fitting farewell to have father and son grace the stage for this lovely piece.

Completing the first half was Marcel Bergman’s Concerto for Two Pianos performed by the composer and B.C.’s own piano hero, Jamie Parker.  Bergman is one half of the Bergman duo and the concerto was originally written for performance with his wife, Elizabeth who was unfortunately unable to make the concert due to health concerns.  Nonetheless, Parker was the perfect duo partner, seeming to intuit the subtle changes of mood and styles. Bergman’s music fused elements of jazz and classical to produce a melodic, harmonic and rhythmic mix reminiscent of Gershwin’s music of the 1930s.  Not only was the piano music virtuosic, but Bergman demonstrated a polished ability with orchestration.  Kudos to Lauris Davis for a beautiful oboe solo in the second movement.

During intermission, stage manager Tim Watson set the stage for the massive final act: Carmina Burana, scored for a huge orchestra plus two SATB mixed choirs, boys’ choir, soprano, tenor, and baritone soloists: altogether, 180 singers and 60 instrumentalists.  Written by German composer Carl Orff, this cycle of 25 songs set medieval texts, explores the themes of nature, love and fate with music that is exhilarating, inspiring and unforgettable.

Keeping 240 performers together is no mean feat, but Maestra Thomson ably controlled them all. From sweeping motions of her arms to the finest flicks of the wrist, she fairly danced on the podium.  The work shone with careful rehearsal and the passionate abandon of live performance.  Of particular note was soprano Cait Wood’s beautiful rendition of Stetit puella with high notes plucked out of the air, and her enchanting performance of In trutina. As well, the baritone James Westman’s warm tone in aria Omnia Sol temperat was matched only by his seamless falsetto in Dies nox et omnia.  There was some playful high-jinx when tenor Nathan Letourneau burst into the auditorium and sheepishly climbed onto the stage to sing his one and only solo Olim lacus coleram, then raced from the room in a precipitous exit. As well, there was some comic flirtation between Wood and Westman in Tempus est iocundum. The cantata began and ended with the iconic O Fortuna (one of the most referenced pieces in popular culture) containing text that is today as fresh and meaningful as it was in the 12th century. Special kudos go to Dominique Bernath for her energetic performance on timpani.

That the audience sprang to its feet in a thunderous standing ovation was hardly a surprise.  This was a historic tour de force for the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and congratulations go the entire administration for this stellar season.  Big, bold and beautiful, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra is here to stay.


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