Los Angeles Music Review: CARMINA BURANA (Los Angeles Master Chorale at Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on November 7, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


It seems a shame to fawn over Los Angeles Master Chorale’s splendid rendering of Carl Orff’s pagan-fest, Carmina Burana, because I can’t tell you to mark your calendar now for the next time. Even though LAMC has visited it before under all four of their music directors, who knows when we shall see this highly recommended affair again? Unlike the annual Messiah and Messiah Sing-Along presented at Christmastime, LAMC rarely unearths this popular 25-movement cantata.

The 24 poems selected by the German composer are just a fraction of the entire Carmina Burana, the name applied to a collection of 254 medieval poems which survive via a manuscript discovered in 1803 at a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria. I was awestruck by the choir’s exquisite diction, given that the poems are principally in Medieval Latin along with Middle High German and some Provençal. The poems, Los Angeles Master Chorale LOGOwritten by students and clergy, are serious when dealing with the human condition and highly satirical when referencing abuses within the church; there are also erotic elegies and poems about imbibing and gambling.

The music is valued predominantly for its absolute fun, robust fervor, Stravinsky-esque faux-primitive rhythms, and boisterously immense choral sound. The 72-member LAMC Orchestra rivaled the LA Phil as each section contributed its share. They were extraordinarily well-balanced with the chorus. Whether executing a tender delicacy and elegance (“Ecce Gratum”) or proffering a sparkling freshness (“Round Dance”—highlighted by Geri Rotella’s flute solo), the orchestra and 110-member chorus brought a field of color to the already multihued score which premiered in 1937 under Nazi rule in Frankfurt. Timpanist Theresa Diamond’s pulsing primeval punch showcased why this work is a particular feast for percussion lovers.

As for many, it was the movies that turned me on to Carmina Burana. “O Fortuna,” the gloriously thrilling movement that bookends the work, sounds like the theme to the Apocalypse. It was used in its entirety for the trailer of the movie, Glory, but James Horner adapted it for the climactic battle scene. Well-known from Los Angeles Master Chorale - Carmina Burana. Photo by Patrick Brownadvertisements and its use in horror flicks, many associate “O Fortuna” with Jerry Goldsmith’s main theme from The Omen, “Ave Satani,” a chilling Latin chant that is forever mistaken for Orff’s timpani-pounding march; while Goldsmith was clearly influenced by Orff (and rightly deserved an Oscar for his 1976 score), the comparison is silly. Except for the fact both pieces have Latin chant, they sound nothing alike: Goldsmith’s opus, which makes me want to hide under the bedcovers, is lumbering, insistent and quite scary; Orff’s inspiring, moody and compelling piece gives the flying fickle finger to Fate. LAMC’s massive, exultant and squeaky-clean delivery made me want to toss off my clothes and march triumphantly towards my smoke-filled sky of destiny.

Baritone soloist José Adán Pérez had the most to sing. Whether admiring Nature, remembering his love, choosing depravity when he is troubled, portraying both a drunken abbot and a lad who hunts and conquers a virgin, Pérez showed off his powerful range, maintaining volume as he extended from bass notes to falsetto. Soprano Stacey Tappan offered a variety of textures, from glassy to a near-belt; Los Angeles Master Chorale - photo by Steve Cohnalthough her “In trutina” was a bit soft for my taste. Tenor Timothy Gonzales was hysterical but never hammy as the dejected swan whose goose is cooked in “Olim lacus colueram” (“Once I Lived on Lakes”).

Under Artistic Director Anne Tomlinson, the bright-toned Los Angeles Children’s Chorus was not just pitch-perfect, but offered impeccable enunciation and professionalism, most notable when they sang “Amor volat undique,” which describes what a bummer it is when a girl doesn’t have a lover to give her pleasure.

It’s fortunate that the Walt Disney Concert Hall was packed to its acoustically perfect rafters, and lucky were the patrons in attendance; but you, dear reader, will simply have to get on LAMC’s mailing list and be patient for a few years. Or you Los Angeles Master Chorale - photo by Steve Cohn.could start a petition on Change.org. The Eveready Bunny of conducting, Grant Gershon—whose leadership was propulsive but never rushed—mentioned that with Verdi’s 15-minute “Te Deum” preceding Carmina Burana, the performance last Sunday should be called “The sacred and the profane.” Why not have a sacred and profane weekend every year? How flawless it would be to have a children’s chorus singing carols one day and then vocalizing about the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony and lust the next? After all, pagans deserve a Christmas present as well as Believers. And, boy oh boy, do I ever believe in the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

photos by Patrick Brown and Steve Cohn

Carmina BuranaTe Deum
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Walt Disney Concert Hall
played on Nov. 2 & 3, 2013
for future events, call 213-972-7282 or visit LAMC

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Louise Ghandhi November 8, 2013 at 6:47 am

Excellent review! On a personal note: I witnessed Carmina Burana as a high school student when it was first performed in Montreal; the hall was filled with high school students. This was the first ‘spectacle’ I ever saw and I will never forget it! I say ‘spectacle’ because the vocal and instrumental were completed by stunning choreography! A yearly Carmina Burana at WDCH gets my enthusiastic vote. Even though this year’s performance neared perfection, adding choreography might be worth exploring for future years. I did not go to hear Verdi’s Te Deum, but how lucky was I to hear this gem!


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