Monday 19 November 2007

Last Night's LSO concert

To the Barbican last night for an LSO concert; Richard Hickox conducting Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, Barber's Knoxvill 1915 and Orff's Carmina Burana.

For the Bernstein and the Orff Hickox used a very large orchestra (16 first violins and a total personnel roster of nearly 100 people). The Barbican stage can barely contain these numbers and I still remain unconvinced that it is the best place for such large scale works. From our seat in the front stalls, the orchestra seemed to dominate the choir in both works. In the Orff particularly I would have liked a greater number of choral singers than could be accommodated on the Barbican stage.

For the Bernstein the choral contribution was polished but I found the singing lacked the energy and incision needed in the piece. The most moving moment was the treble solo in the 2nd movement, beautifully sung by Jesus Duque from the Tiffin Boys Choir.

Barber's Knoxville 1915 is one of those pieces that I am sure I have never heard in concert before, but which is familiar all the same. The programme did not include the words so we had to hang on Laura Claycomb's every note. By and large she succeeded in getting all the words across and floated a beautiful sound in the lyrical passages.

I have always thought that Carl Orff had a lot in common with Gustav Holst. Both produced one very popular work and then showed no interest in following this up, but explored other less popular veins. Though the other 2 works in Orff's Trionfi trilogy explore some of the same areas as Carmina Buran, they do so without this works intoxicating melodic flair.

I first sang Carmina Burana as a student under a pupil of Orff's. He conducted the rehearsals with great emphasis on rhythm and articulation. We quite often practised without any pitch at all. He laid great stress on the words and they way we projected them, almost spitting them out. This is something which can create a strong effect in the piece, but is too often neglected by choirs. The LSO chorus sang beautifully but in the passages like the quiet sections of the first movement, O Fortuna, their delivery lacked energy and vividness. As in the Bernstein, they somehow could not get energy across the orchestra and there was rather an over emphasis on beautiful singing. In the louder passages the balance rather favoured the orchestra, but there was some beautiful singing from the semi-chorus in the quieter moments.

The soloists were probably about the best you could get in this work. The Swan was, correctly, sung by a tenor, Barry Banks, rather than a counter-tenor. His theatrical delivery was matched by an assured vocal performance, this was the Swan as it should be with the tenor at the top of, or beyond, his comfortable range. The baritone soloist is similarly taken to the very top (and bottom) of his vocal comfort zone. This seemed to hold no fears for Christopher Maltman who turned in a beautifully sung but very dramatic account of the baritone solos. Laura Claycomb did exactly what the soprano solo is asked to do, floated high notes beautifully.

In many ways this was a fine performance. The soloists were superb and the orchestra were on top form, if only the performance had taken place in a venue which would have allowed the chorus to expand to match them.

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