VSO 2008-09 Season: Final Concert: Stravinsky and Orff

Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms; Orff Carmina Burana

Conductor Bramwell Tovey Featured performers Laura Whelan - soprano, Colin Ainsworth - tenor, Hugh Russell - baritone, Vancouver Bach Choir, Vancouver Bach Children's Chorus

Dates 13 and 15 June 2009 Venue Orpheum Theatre

Reviewer John Jane

To acknowledge the final concert of the 2008-09 season, Maestro Tovey, looking remarkably chic in a black Nehru jacket gave what he described as an “End of term speech” in which he heaped some well deserved praise on members of the orchestra and thanked them for their contributions. He also took the opportunity to say a fond farewell to principal trombonist Gordon Cherry and principal bassist Kenneth Freidman who have a combined total 70 years of dedicated musicianship with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

Carmina Burana's force emanates from the fusion of musical forms. It’s indeed a popular piece, everyone knows the O Fortuna chorus from those GatoradeTM commercials and movie soundtracks. Carl Orff’s selection of twenty-four poems set to new music has inspired orchestras merged with large choirs since its composition in the mid thirties. O Fortuna is the most famous movement from Orff's chef d'oeuvre, which begins and ends the musical cycle.

Sung in its entirety in the original Latin and old German languages, this performance by the Vancouver Bach Choir in concord with the Vancouver Bach Children’s Chorus (that seemed to consist only of girls) was absolute gold-standard. The music is intense, evocative, and notwithstanding the occasionally sexually charged text, spiritual (just read the English translation of Chramer, gip die varwe mir).

They were joined on stage by soprano Laura Whelan, tenor Colin Ainsworth, and baritone Hugh Russell. All were superb, bringing lyricism and warmth to selected musical vignettes. Colin Ainsworth got short shrift. His sole offering was to articulate a roasting swan in Cignus ustus cantat.

Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms is a perfect companion piece to Carmina Burana. Maestro Tovey uses an unconventional orchestra without violins or violas, but with two pianos, a harp and eight cellos formed in a semi-circle around the conductor’s podium. The interpretation of the majestic Psalm 150, performed in its entirity is without doubt a virtuoso tour-de-force that clearly demonstrated the immense range of the Vancouver Bach Choir and the flexibility of the orchestra.

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra sign off on an incredibly busy – even hectic year. The audience at this season finale showed their appreciation with a ten-minute standing ovation. We all look forward to the first concert in the next season with Israeli violin virtuoso Shlomo Mintz.

© 2009 John Jane