Review by Judith Caldwell
The final concert in the 2015 Brott Summer Music Festival featured choral works by two Twentieth Century musical titans – Leonard Bernstein and Carl Orff. The opening half of the concert belonged to Bernstein, his ‘Chichester Psalms’. This is a work for boy soprano or counter tenor, chorus and orchestra which was written around the pivotal roles of two harps, Bernstein composed their music first and then wrapped the remainder of the music around them. Instead of the traditional, tonight had soprano Leslie Fagan singing as the youthful King David.
Each of the three movements contains one complete Psalm plus excerpts from another paired psalm sung in Hebrew, and they move from joy and thanksgiving to the Lord; to sorrow and bitterness at hatred and animosity while always trusting in God; to final serenity knowing that the Lord will bring ‘brethren to dwell together in unity’. It was a very moving piece, at times somber and at others joyous, but overall there was a sense of trust and serenity, and Fagan’s voice was perfect for the music. Bernstein consciously juxtaposed Christian church music (it was commissioned by the Dean of Chichester Cathedral) with Judaic liturgical traditions and insisted that it be sung in Hebrew to show that peace and harmony between religions was possible. After intermission it was Carl Orff’s ‘scenic cantata’ Carmina Burana, which is apparently a Latinized form of Songs of Bavaria and they come from a 13th century songbook which Orff set to music. They are very secular in tone and the three parts are called ‘Spring’, ‘In The Tavern’ and ‘Love’, each part explores a fundamental human need for Nature, Wine and Love which can be enjoyed so long as one has good fortune. The chorus begins and ends the piece with the rhythmic, driving O Fortuna and in between a tenor, a baritone and a soprano join the chorus at different times. The introduction and ‘Spring’ belonged to the baritone, Cairan Ryan, and the choir and after the original turn of Fortunes wheel, it is largely light and lively and hopeful with echoes of many musical genres driven by the changes in the rhythm. ‘In The Tavern’ begins with Ryan again and then a totally weird song for the tenor, Bud Roach, about a swan who used to swim in the lake but is now being cooked in the oven. That is the only tenor solo and was almost all sung falsetto. Roach did a wonderful job of it, but one did empathize with his threatened character.
The audience finally met the soprano, Fagan, in the Court of Love where she and Ryan variously sang alone or with the chorus but never as a duet. The familiar O Fortuna turns the wheel again at the end. Rhythm is so paramount to Orff that Stravinsky apparently called his style ‘Neo Neanderthal’ but audiences love it. The National Academy Orchestra, the Arcady singers and the three soloists were all in top form and this was a spectacular finale to a very successful season. Next year they are promising Don Giovanni as the opera.
Review by Judith Caldwell