The University of Dublin Choral Society delivers a capable and secure performance of Carmina Burana. The choir of over one hundred singers comprises of current and former Trinity College students. The orchestra is a mix of music students and professionals, providing a training ground for the younger players as they are exposed to the standards required later in their careers.
It is the orchestra that opens the concert with Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture, and for the most part they competently handle the irregular rhythms and changing tempi. Conductor David Leigh never lets the orchestra get too heavy in this large scale work, apart from the final phrases where full orchestra belt out homophonic B major chords. The percussion however is given freedom to dramatically representing the feuding Capulet and Montague families, while Leigh calls for more emotive playing from strings for some of the most melodious phrases, and the flute solo representing Juliet is particularly pleasing.
The orchestra begins Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with similar sentiment to how it finished the previous piece. Orff’s setting of twenty-four medieval poems, depicting gluttony, gambling and lust was hugely popular in Germany in 1937, and whereas debate still reigns as to Orff’s affiliations to the Nazi Party, this is the most famous piece composed and premiered in Nazi Germany. The conductor is clearly aware of this connection, as he makes reference to it in his programme notes – however, with perhaps the exception of the first movement (the famous O Fortuna) he never allows the orchestra or singers to get too caught up in the declamatory. After the initial explosion of sound, the remainder of the first part is quite subdued. The substantial University of Dublin Choral Society refrain from becoming over-zealous, and some parts like the seventh movement, Floret Silva, are very sweetly sung by the female chorus. This air of refinement and grace that is present throughout is probably in contrast to Orff’s original intentions for the staged versions, and while one can argue this is acceptable in its cantata form, more could have been done to portray the rambunctious nature the texts. The choir are clear in their Germanic Latin diction and consistently remain in time with the orchestra; a more difficult challenge than it seems given their distance from the conductor in the choir balcony and the energy and speed of some of the movements.
After an interval, the second and third parts In Taberna and Cour D’Amours introduce a new energy to the concert. The movements of In Taberna are less tuneful, but never descend to vulgar. Baritone soloist Paul McGough sets the scene with the vocally stretching Estuans Interius, which depicts a monk deciding to indulge in lustful desires. The entire baritone solo is notoriously difficult, with even Thomas Allen collapsing mid way through a performance with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1974. McGough delivers a well paced performance, carefully meeting each vocal demand. His most enjoyable moments were when he let his personality through, particularly his cadenzas in Dies, Nox et Omnia, when he showcased a secure countertenor voice. Tenor Jack Kinkead gives a confident rendition of Olim Lacus Colueram, choosing not to indulge in any quirkiness that could arise from fact he is portraying a swan being roasted on a spit. The performance of young soprano Michelle Smith is one of the highlights. Her blossoming voice sweetly sings the soprano solo, and she confidently negotiates the vocal demands, particularly the top D in Dulcissime.
Credit should also be given to the younger orchestral players, who matched their more senior counterparts as the orchestra was rhythmically tight and strong throughout.