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KZNPO CONCERT: NOVEMBER 22 (article first published : 2007-11-24)

One thing about Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana: love it or loathe it, it’s good for the box office, partly because of the attendance by friends, relatives, associates and admirers of the choir singers involved.

Predictably, the performance at this concert of Orff’s extraordinary cantata, written in 1938 and based on mediaeval texts discovered in a monastery in Bavaria, attracted to the Durban City Hall the biggest crowd seen at a KZN Philharmonic Orchestra concert for some time.

An additional drawcard was the appearance of the soprano Bronwen Forbay, who grew up in Durban and has made a name for herself in the United States.

The concert, conducted by the visiting American Leslie B. Dunner, opened with a lively account of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte Overture. More lovely Mozart came with his Exsultate, jubilate, a motet composed originally for a celebrated castrato singer but now always sung by a soprano (including many of the greatest singers of the past century). It is a three-movement, 15-minute work, and difficult for the soloist, with many spectacular coloratura passages. I felt that Bronwen Forbay was not at her best in the first section --- her lower notes were sometimes barely audible against the orchestra --- but the Andante was beautifully sung, as was the famous Alleluia which concludes the work.

Carmina Burana, with its driving rhythms and emphasis on unison rather than harmony, is a big work in every respect. With about 160 choristers participating, there were more than two hundred people on the City Hall stage. The singers came from the Durban Symphonic Choir, founded more than 40 years ago by Heather Brandon, the Durban Serenade Choral Society, the Clifton Prep School Choir and the Nsimbini Primary School Chorus. Some of them live in Morningside, some of them live in Cato Manor, and it was a heart-touching experience to see and hear men, women and children from such diverse backgrounds dedicated to a common cause, music.

The main soloist was Andre Howard who teaches at Stellenbosch University and has performed this music so often that he could sing it in his sleep. He is a splendid baritone with a big, flexible voice, ranging from a heroic middle register which rang through the sounds of chorus and orchestra to a beautifully controlled falsetto in the macabre song of a swan on a roasting-spit. (Andre Howard sang the composition’s baritone role and the part often assigned to a tenor).

The soprano has some important arias toward the end of the work, and Bronwen Forbay made a strong emotional impact in them.

The massed choirs were disciplined and accurate in their attack (and sang with obvious enjoyment) and the orchestra had a wonderfully noisy time, especially the percussion and the brass.

On the podium Leslie Dunner kept a tight hand on all this, constantly encouraging the singers and obtaining full effect from the many dramatic contrasts in the music.

Altogether, a night to remember, even for those who have heard Carmina many times before. - Michael Green




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