Thursday, November 04, 2010

SFS: Carmina burana

San Francisco City HallWednesday night's program at the SF Symphony began with Schnittke's jokey Moz-Art à la Haydn, for small string ensemble & violin soloists Alexander Barantschik & Dan Smiley. Conductor Carlos Kalmar & the musicians gave an energetic performance that got laughs from the stage antics as well as the music. Themes from Mozart symphonies survive barely 2 seconds before sagging into dissonances. The ensemble rearranges itself in the middle of the piece, & one of the soloists tunes down his instrument while playing. In a parody of Haydn's Farewell Symphony, the piece ends with the players walking off, leaving Maestro Kalmar tapping on his music stand as all the lights go out. One of my concert companions described it as a piece for classical music nerds. Mr. Smiley got extra applause when he came out for his bow wearing a Giants baseball cap.

This was followed by the equally enjoyable Haydn Symphony No. 97. The tempos were lilting & dance-like, & there were nice terraced dynamics. The end of the 1st movement was punctuated by a single clap from someone in the audience.

Several rows in the 2nd tier that were empty for the 1st half filled up after the intermission for the performance of Carmina burana. Maestro Kalmar's conducting was vigorous & crisp. I liked the clean cut offs & the tempo changes that prevented things from merely chugging along. The famous "O Fortuna" was appropriately monumental while the "Bibit" verses were nicely fleet. Keith Phares has a suave & continuous baritone sound, & he maintained a smoothness even in a high falsetto section. Tenor Nicholas Phan is high-voiced & sang the grotesque swan aria without sounding too unpleasantly pinched or distressed. I wished he had more arias. Soprano Joélle Harvey was wondrously high-voiced as well, & she sang the ridiculously high-flying "Dulcissime" with a supported & unstrained sound. The audience responded to the performance with an immediate standing ovation. The well-prepared children's chorus received especially loud applause.

I was part of a group that sat in the last row of the 2nd tier. Shamefully, one of us was unable to maintain proper audience composure. Another of my concert companions succinctly summed up Carmina burana by noting that the outer "O Fortuna" movements tell us how cruelly fate will throw us around, but the inner movements tell us to grab onto love in spite of it all.

§ Carmina burana
San Francisco Symphony
Carlos Kalmar, conductor

Joélle Harvey, soprano
Nicholas Phan, tenor
Keith Phares, baritone

San Francisco Symphony Chorus
Pacific Boychoir; Kevin Fox, Director
The Crowden School Allegro Chorus; Laura Kakis Serper, Director

Schnittke: Moz-Art à la Haydn (1977)
Haydn: Symphony No. 97
Orff: Carmina burana

Wed, Nov 3, 2010 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall


The Opera Tattler said...

I was quite alarmed by my lack of reserve in this case. Perhaps I should not be allowed to hear Carmina burana live!

Axel Feldheim said...

Either that or someone needs to stage a truly funny version of Carmina burana, so that you are laughing with instead of at.

Civic Center said...

Anybody who can listen to "Carmina Burana" without laughing has a heart of stone.

David Lasson said...

As a Haydn lover, I note that his 97th symphony, a masterpiece of the genre by any standards one cares to apply, was dispatched in your review with little more than a sentence. At the risk of sounding churlish, I am one reader who would have appreciated a bit more "enlightenment" and a little less "fun" in this posting.

Axel Feldheim said...

sfmike: Whomever do you mean? Personally, I think we need a sing-along Carmina burana. It was certainly hard for me at times not to want to join in, & that includes during the swan song. The audience would also be encouraged to come with castanets.

DL: I take for granted that my readers are already far more enlightened than me, so there is no need to remind them of the quality of Haydn's music, though during the intermission, one of our party found the Symphony too calm & boring. Certainly the programming is a bit lopsided. The massive & motley Carmina burana does not logically follow the classically smart & tasteful Hadyn. I can at least reiterate that Kalmar is a fine conductor for Haydn. He is energetic & precise, & his light-footed tempos communicated Haydn's cheerful & robust personality.

Civic Center said...

Dear Axel: You are absolutely on the right track with the idea of a Sing-a-Long Carmina Burana, but I think we need to take it a step further, and include people who want to participate in an Interpretive-Dance-a-Long Carmina Burana at the same time. Forget Michael Jackson flashmobs. This would set the world on fire.

Axel Feldheim said...

Well I discovered that the sing-along Carmina burana was already done as recently as June by a Washington DC group, so the time is indeed ripe for the interpretive dance version. Someone needs to do this!

The Opera Tattler said...

We need to do this, clearly.