Review: Music defeats happy-snapping at Llewellyn Hall

Tobias Cole as the unfortunate Swan and conductor Leonard Weiss

Tobias Cole as the unfortunate Swan and conductor Leonard Weiss

IN A canny move that combines the excitement of collaboration with the advantages of enhanced audience sizes, musical directors Tobias Cole of Canberra Choral Society and Leonard Weiss of the National Capital Orchestra respectively joined to present a mighty concert under the title “Carmina Burana”.

It was Carl Orff’s stupendously popular composition, that pulled the crowd of music-lovers and family members, evident in the spontaneous eruption of mobile phones taking happy snaps, even as the orchestra warmed up to praise the fickle Goddess of Fortune.

That snapping showed both the good and the bad side of introducing new audiences unfamiliar with the need to consider fellow audience members and performers. Once quelled, with phones switched off, the performance proceeded in a highly controlled rendition of “Carmina Burana”.

Lawergren with the orchestra and choristers

Lawergren with the orchestra and choristers

This composition was devised around 24 poems in mediaeval Latin, German and Provencal, and sings of secular and profane love, human greed and cruelty.

Written in homage to the earliest awakenings of western music, it is written in simple, non-polyphonic form – in other words the choir sang in unison.

The purity of the singing is enhanced in the composition by wildly dramatic orchestral effects.

Weiss took control of the orchestra and the choristers from the outset, excelling in the quieter segments but insufficiently showy in the more rollicking sections, which Orff himself had conceived for theatrical presentation.

Jeremy Tatchell

Jeremy Tatchell

The Canberra-raised baritone made a surprise appearance to replace the scheduled David Greco (who was ill), joining Sydney soprano Suzannah Lawergren for most of the solos. Both were surprisingly reticent and occasionally overpowered by the orchestra, although Tatchell opening song “Omnia Sol temperat” was a model of refinement and Lawergren’s delicate high notes, audible when less-accompanied, resonated throughout Llewellyn Hall.

Tobias Cole’s eccentric appearance in “Olim lacus colueram” (we have seen him do this before) with a black feather boa draped around him, as the tragic ‘Roasting Swan,’ who once swam in lakes but is now burning on the spit ready to satisfy the greed of human beings. This theatrical moment of misery nicely parallels the previous poem “In the Tavern”, full of burning anger.

Weiss summoned the full force of the Capital Chorale (CCS), New Voices, Turner Trebles and the NCO for the powerful concluding theme that Fortune is the Empress of the World.

No doubt it was the final showpiece, “Carmina Burana,” that most had come to see, but it was by no means all we heard.

A spirited opening of Wagner’s “Prelude to Lohengrin Act III”, served as a rousing warmup but ended abruptly, up in the air, leaving the audience uncertain whether to applaud.

Sarahlouise Owens

Sarahlouise Owens

There were no such problems with the middle part of this eclectic evening, the Canberra premiere of Australian composer Sean O’Boyle’s 2001 composition “River Symphony.”

Augmented by the Canberra Brass Ensemble, this ambitious work same perfectly suited to the talents on show. The composition requires a symphony orchestra, a brass band, Aqua and two soprano soloists, in this case Lawergren and Sarahlouise Owens playing respectively the child and the mother of the river.

Suzannah Lawergren

Suzannah Lawergren

Weiss once again steered the NCO to a high level pf achievement in this work, which conjured up not a tributary but a mighty river—maybe the Mississippi or at least the Murray, full of angry waters, with dolphins, platypus and fish dating in the shallows and even the dangers of pollution.

The NCO strings shimmered and eddied like the river. The choristers underscored this. Owens, deep and strong and Lawergren, light and pure, mostly vocalised, but eventually enunciated a few words underlining theme of the universal river of life.

This concert, in its programming, cleverly drew in new audiences while also offering musicians and opportunity for intrigue and drama. It will be interesting to see how this movement towards originality continues in the NCO’s October concert, which features works by Scriabin, Suk and Canberra’s own Sally Greenaway.

All photos courtesy of Peter Hislop

 

 

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