The mighty opening chords of “O Fortuna” are sounds to gladden the hearts of fans of Carl Orff’s ebullient “Carmina Burana.” These fans filled most of Benaroya Hall on Thursday evening, and responded to the Seattle Symphony’s production with 12th Man ebullience, following a mostly spectacular performance under the baton of the orchestra’s associate conductor, Stilian Kirov.
(The few who are more skeptical about the 1930s Orff classic may enjoy an Internet search for the term “Gopher Tuna,” which will lead to a hilarious cartoon video based on misheard lyrics of the score’s first-movement Latin texts.)
Why does almost everyone love “Carmina Burana”? It’s a spectacular piece, employing enormous forces in propulsive, high-energy, strongly rhythmic music that sounds like an hourlong continuous celebration. It’s wildly colorful, employing an oversized chorus with full orchestra and nearly every musical and percussive effect short of police sirens. The three vocal soloists and the choral singers are pushed to the absolute limits of their registers — and beyond, in some cases. There’s seldom a dull moment in the score.
What really made Thursday’s performance of the Orff was the excellence of the chorus, prepared to the hilt by Joseph Crnko, and featuring not only the Seattle Symphony Chorale but also the Northwest Boychoir (of which Crnko also is the music director). This combined group sang with tremendous energy, focus, and accuracy, in lyrics that range from the amorous and hopeful to the cynical and despairing.
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The three vocal soloists coped admirably with music that often lies outside the normal ranges for orchestral soloists. Soprano Caitlin Lynch gave a lyrical account of her highflying “Dulcissime”; baritone Corey McKern (who had the most music to sing) gave a moving, almost operatic reading to the highly dramatic texts. Tenor Daniel Shirley — who lurched on and off the stage to illustrate the unfortunate fate of the “roasted swan” he portrayed — sang lyrically and full-voice the extremely high lines that are more usually rendered in falsetto.
Associate conductor Kirov was tapped on short notice to replace an ailing Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos for this program. Kirov conducted with great vitality and energy as well as a fine sense of both balance and timing, and got exciting performances from all hands — chorus, soloists, orchestra.
When you have an hourlong popular favorite on the program, what do you do with the other half of the evening? This time, you present a late Haydn symphony (No. 100, the “Military”), which has little to do with the 20th-century quasi-medieval territory of “Carmina,” but was efficiently rendered by Kirov and the orchestra. It is safe to say, however, that the majority of the audience wasn’t there for the Haydn.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.