Latest Review - Carmina Burana

2 Dec 2016

Sussex Chorus at The King’s Church, Burgess Hill,

Saturday, 19 November 2016


What do you programme alongside a work extolling profane love, bawdiness and outright lust? Sussex Chorus, in their concert in The King’s Church, Burgess Hill, came up with a novel and wholly satisfactory answer: something completely different. And a brave option they chose: the masterful cellist Pavlos Carvalho with talented accompanist Karine Selo. Having their delightful performance of a set of variations by Beethoven on a Mozart aria and superb rendition of Rachmaninov’s Sonata in G, his last chamber work, caressing its nuances and expressive nature, as the first half of the evening, was a master stroke.

Carmina Burana is the culprit. A scenic Cantata, it is Carl Orff’s most lasting legacy, still challenging both choir and audience today. Its 24 thirteenth-century poems encompass the Wheel of Fortune, Spring and all its connotations of renewal, the bawdy Tavern and Courtly Love. And all in Pigeon Latin! Wherein lies the challenge. Orff’s style eschews counterpoint or development of ideas. They come in rhythmic punches and reiterating, short motivs in plain declamation.  Diction is paramount as a great deal is unison or in basic harmony- there’s nowhere to hide and the Sussex Chorus did very well indeed, especially in the real tongue-twisters, under the expert direction of Alan Vincent, to hold all this together. The only sadness is that, without having a clue what they were singing about, the audience, unless they were already in the know, had little to latch on to by way of meaning, so a great deal of the humour and subtlety of the text was lost.  And that did partly detract from the pretty good musical fist the choir made of it.

Orff is no more sympathetic to the three soloists, fine voices all. The pains of love, boastfulness and being roasted alive require a good deal of theatre and take the singers out of their comfort zone. Timothy Connor, baritone, was superb in characterising the boastful Abbot, moving from controlled falsetto to clear, rich bass, showing considerable vocal dexterity. Likewise Richard Roberts, tenor, gave a truly agonising account of a swan going from beautiful mover to charred roast on the dinner table, all uncomfortably placed around the break of top end and falsetto. Laure Meloy had no easier task and her more ethereal but very taxing solos, particularly ‘Dulcissime’, Sweetest boy, were beautifully executed.

The ‘orchestra’ reflected Orff’s love of tuned percussion. John Walker and Darren Jameson very ably provided the piano duet accompaniment with Mike Wood, timpani, and his accomplished battery of percussionists providing another pleasingly different slant to the event.

And, perhaps most importantly, the Ragazzi children’s choir, well drilled by Elizabeth Holmes - their opening and closing ‘O Fortuna’ will stay with them for life. It seems too little live music is ever heard by youngsters nowadays so such opportunities to hear and perform quality music, and to bring a young audience with them, must be more accessible and encouraged.

The King’s Church was probably as good a venue as any for such an evening and the acoustics suited both the soloists and the choir. It was a lousy evening outside so a pleasure to be inside for such an enjoyable evening’s entertainment, especially for those of us in the know.

Simon Austin