The article below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of February 4, 2007.
Carmina Burana, that piece of scandalous ledwness. Rumors about the racy language are always guaranteed to pique the interest of young music students.
Explicitly amorous serenades and rowdy no-holds-barred drinking songs written by meretricious monks and overexcited university students in antiquity. Except that they're all in Latin or medieval German, and English translations are invariably a whitewash of the original wording.
This weekend at Popejoy Hall, the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and Chorus brought to life Carl Orff's setting of these notorious poems, conducted by Roger Melone. Stylistically, the work is simple, yet effective with repeating rhythms. The overarching theme of the piece is “Fortune, Empress of the World.” The wheel of Fortuna is always turning: some are at the top and some at the bottom, but one can never know the result beforehand.
The opening section, O Fortuna, is one of those pieces of music that virtually everyone knows, if not by name, certainly by sound.
The NMSO Chorus, called upon extensively throughout the work, explored its dynamic range with scrupulous sense of ensemble. Part one, Primo vere (Spring) is filled with simple medieval melodies—which in Orff's 20th-century setting sound much more modern than they would have in their own time. Veris leta facies (The Merry Face of Spring) was haunting in its austerity, contrasting with Ecce gratum (Behold the Pleasant Spring), which brought the chorus to majestic full voice. Chramer, gip die varwe mir (Peddler, give me paint) produced lush harmonies telling of sexual enticements. Brass flourishes grandly set off Were diu werlt alle min (Were all the world mine), a brilliant lead-in to the In taberna section.
Tenor Sam Shepperson, accompanied by flutter-tongued winds, employed his full range in the grimly humorous story of the Roasted Swan. Effective declamation from baritone Kevin McMillan characterized the sardonic philosophy of the Abbot of Cockaigne. He later made great use of head voice in Dies, nox et omnia (Day, night and everything).
Substituting soprano Pamela Hinchman gave her solo In trutina (In the balance) in dulcet and hushed tones only to have the enchanting spell broken by the raucously rhythmic Tempus es iocundum (This is the joyous season).
The Fortuna theme returns to end this brilliantly sonorous production.
The concert opened with Haydn's Symphony No. 96, nicknamed “Miracle” not for anything in the music, but for an incident with a chandelier which accompanied an early performance. (When there are over a hundred Haydn symphonies to keep track of, nicknames are always welcome.)
Melone led an effective performance of the small ensemble.