Master Chorale of South Florida's "Carmina Burana" a bittersweet success
By Jack Zink, South Florida Sun Sentinel
Tra la! It's April! The lusty month of April! That shocking time of year when tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear.
With absolutely no apologies to Lerner & Loewe or their Broadway musical "Camelot," choral director Jo-Michael Scheibe has gone a-May-ing early this year with a tantalizing presentation of that deliciously earthy cantata, Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana."
Scheibe conducted the piece Friday night with his Master Chorale of South Florida, the Boca Raton Philharmonic Symphonia and the Miami Children's Chorus at the Arsht Center's Knight Concert Hall in Miami. It will be hard to beat the acoustical advantage of the Knight's multimillion-dollar sound box, but for those wishing to catch up with the event, it will be repeated in Pompano Beach and Boca Raton through the weekend.
The vigorous, emotion-grabbing music, simple in texture but as difficult to control as a python, is a bittersweet success for the Master Chorale this spring. It's the close of the chorus season, and the grand exit for Scheibe, who will take over the choral music chair at the University of Southern California in the fall.
Currently Director of Choral Studies at the University of Miami Frost School of Music, he led the Master Chorale's formation nearly a decade ago as the choir for the now-defunct Florida Philharmonic Orchestra. Born and schooled in southern California, his return there can't be second guessed. The hope is that there will be room in his guest conducting calendar for returns here.
As for this weekend's swan song, Scheibe gave the Boca Symphonia as much a wringing-through as the Chorale, and the Symphonia acquitted itself for the most part in the demanding surroundings of the Knight hall.
If you're under a certain age, the pulsating rhythm and choral anthem of the cantata's opening "O Fortuna" is a teaser announcing the evening news, theme for a 30-second commercial, an exclamation point in countless movie scores, and a furtive sample in a deejay's mix at club trendy. In other words, it seems to be everywhere.
If you're over a certain age, you probably know why. The irresistible theme of "O Fortuna" is both the opening and closing musical bookend of Orff's 1937 multi-media piece. It thrums for a few minutes, an attention-getter if ever there was one, to frame a choral work with orchestral highlights that is regarded in some quarters as the most popular musical composition of the 20th century.
Though designed (and originally performed) to be accompanied by dance and other visual accoutrements, it's most often performed as it is this weekend, for massed choirs and orchestra.
Among the vocal solos, baritone Donnie Ray Albert nailed the often-provocative lyrics at Friday's concert, though at times his voice grew phlegmy. John Duykers essayed the mostly-falsetto, reedy tenor solos centered on death throes ("On the spit I turn and turn"). Soprano Suzan Hanson brought the emotion if not the color to the closing songs' romance and eroticism.
Scheibe easily managed the Master Chorale, found both discipline and energy in the Children's Chorus, and held a tight grip on the reins of the Symphonia. There were moments early on, as in the crescendi of "O Fortuna," where all Hell was breaking loose. But Scheibe held enough rein to keep orchestra and chorus in the moment, and forging ahead.
The Symphonia's brasses offered clear punctuation and emphasis throughout the performance, complemented by the strings. The woodwinds, ever stressed throughout, added to the Symphonia's overall scrappy performance that, while reliable, had yet to merge fully with the chorus.
The cantata spans 25 segments, including a couple of instrumental dances, with the lyrics to the vocals in Latin and German. They're from poems written by students and minstrels around 1100-1300, set to music by Orff that covers the poems' range from mystical reverence to beer hall anthems.
Jack Zink can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4706.
© 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
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