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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Choral Classic

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Carl Orff's secular oratorio Carmina Burana is an obvious audience favorite. It is also clear that Andreas Delfs has a strong personal connection to this colorful music. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra performance he led in 2005, with minimal costumes and staging, was the best overall performance I have ever heard of it. The MSO performance last weekend, conducted by Delfs, was not quite as engrossing, but had much to commend it. Delfs was a free spirit on the podium. No one in the house enjoyed Carmina Burana more than the conductor.

One of Delfs' strengths has been his work with Milwaukee Symphony Chorus. Some of his most memorable MSO performances have featured it. The chorus was clearly the star of this Carmina Burana. Delfs drew an especially expressive performance from it, adding many specific ideas that heightened the text and music.

Soprano Kiera Duffy used her small but resonant voice intelligently, finding eloquent individual touches in her solos. Though baritone Earle Patriarco has a traditionally handsome sound, he seemed miscast at times, unable to bring the desired freedom to his part. He was also inaudible in the sensual falsetto phrases. Among mostly good singing, there was a noticeable break in the young tenor Brian Stucki's voice each time he reached for the highest note.

The concert began with a stately but fairly pedestrian account of Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. William Schuman's Symphony No. 5, for strings only, was serious listening in this program of otherwise familiar music. Its year of composition, 1943, informs the anxiousness in the score. As is often the case in challenging works, the musicians played at their best.

Early Music Now (EMN) presented the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet on Saturday evening at the Zelazo Center at UW-Milwaukee. By changing instruments on each number and mixing up repertory this unusual group makes recorder playing relevant and interesting to modern audiences. Anyone who appreciates expert musicianship and cultivated ensemble playing would have found much to admire in the performance. Continuing to use the pre-dinner 5 p.m. concert time, EMN drew what appeared to be a record crowd.