Pathways to the past with TSO Carmina Burana

Some concerts are put together so well that you can’t help admiring the clever curator, combining compositions.

Ai caramba I didn’t mean to be so alliterative.

But even so they made magic at Roy Thomson Hall tonight in a Toronto Symphony program featuring different approaches to the past. Korngold’s Violin Concerto (premiered in 1947) was followed by Orff’s Carmina Burana (premiered in 1936). To hear the pieces you might never guess which is the more recent composition. While Korngold wrote a three movement concerto using stunning melodic moments that the composer had employed previously in his films (his recent past, if you will), Orff set a series of medieval texts, in music that for me never gets old and never sounds old.  I feel as though the middle ages come vividly to life.  Each piece might be what we would identify as “popular”, whether in the lush melodies in the Korngold or the crowd-pleasing sounds of Orff’s piece.

Speaking of past, I know I’m not the only one who gets nostalgic listening to the Orff. I ran into Joseph So after the concert, who reminisced about his associations from his undergraduate days listening to the piece. It has multiple associations for me, whether in the nerdy Latin scholars I recall from high-school who loved its bawdy text, or the room at St Hilda’s College I recall vividly from my undergrad, where we smoked up to one of the finest pieces of stoner music ever written. As I looked around at the audience, I saw at least a few people tapping their feet and jerking their heads as though they were at a rock concert.

And maybe I should talk about the concert.

James Ehnes gave us a stunning reading of the Korngold from the very first note of the piece.  Conductor Donald Runnicles kept the orchestra’s sometimes thick texture completely out of Ehnes’ way, enhancing a spectacular performance. There was a bit of additional drama in the last movement when for some reason Ehnes & concertmaster Jonathan Crow traded instruments (tuning problems?

RESIZED Mendelssohn Choir-06-2019- Nick Wons--20

Jonathan Crow (left) and the TSO sharing the applause after the concerto with soloist James Ehnes and conductor Donald Runnicles. Photo: Nick Wons

A string needing to be adjusted or fixed? I can only guess, but will ask and if I find out I’ll let you know: see below) for about a minute. While I’m sure Ehnes plays an exceptional instrument, Crow’s violin ain’t chopped liver, from what I heard last week when he played a gorgeous Meditation from Thais at a benefit concert next door in St Andrew’s Church. The drama –concluded when Crow & Ehnes traded back shortly after—suited the high spirits of the concerto’s finale.

Donald Runnicles close up (@Jag Gundu)

Conductor Donald Runnicles leading the Toronto Symphony (photo: Jag Gundu)

I’ve heard a lot of versions of Carmina Burana and must recommend Runnicles’ distinctive interpretation. He connects the sections together rather than making big pauses, he pushes the tempi in the quicker passages, which is especially electrifying if you get your percussion & brass to opt for clear & crisp attacks. You won’t hear a better performance. This orchestra is in fine form coming towards the last few concerts of the year (this week & next).

Credit too must go to David Fallis, who has the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir matching Runnicles’ requirements for clarity. The text was pristine, the dynamics sometimes beautifully restrained except in the big climaxes, so that the performance had more shape than usual (more than last time certainly). The soft singing still had great intensity, diction and consonants and energy but without being loud all the time. As a result? Extraordinary. If I could go see every concert this week, I would.

The TSO will be playing the Korngold Violin Concerto with James Ehnes followed by Orff’s Carmina Burana, including the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Toronto Youth Choir & Toronto Children’s Chorus, baritone Norman Garrett, tenor Sunnyboy Dladla & soprano Nicole Haslett: 8:00 pm Thursday June 20th and Saturday June 22nd plus a 3:00 matinee Sunday June 23rd at Roy Thomson Hall.

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Tenor Sunnyboy Dladla (seated at left) and baritone Norman Garrett (singing), photo: Nick Wons

This entry was posted in Music and musicology, Popular music & culture, Reviews, University life and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Pathways to the past with TSO Carmina Burana

  1. barczablog says:

    On Facebook the next morning Jonathan Crow tells me (answering my query)
    “Sure! One of James’ strings slipped and got pulled from the correct groove on the bridge; it was a quick fix!”

    Thanks!! (thank you for answering, and thank you for rescuing the performance).

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