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Music Review : Teamwork Pays Off In 'Carmina'

November 10, 1986|DANIEL CARIAGA | Times Music Writer

A rethought performance of Carl Orff's familiar "Carmina Burana" provided the climax to the collaboration between the Pacific Chorale and the Pacific Symphony in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Saturday night.

As recreated by conductor John Alexander, Orff's colorful cantata, soon to be 50 years old, exerted its many charms anew, in a carefully wrought account that stressed clarity and cumulative excitement. Alexander kept a tight rein on all his forces--his 140-voice, resourceful choir, the deeply accomplished Pacific Symphony and three soloists--but allowed the natural peaks in the work to emerge without artifice.

Compared to some smirking, cynical readings this piece has received, this was a pristine one--innocent, even. It touched the emotional core of the work, seemed to tread its well-worn rhythmic paths for the first time, and brought enthusiasm on the part of the performers to both musical and poetic texts. Too many performances of "Carmina Burana" have seemed like stale retellings of a dirty joke; this one found the integrity and mythic qualities in the original score.

A virtually immaculate and handsomely balanced reading by both chorus and orchestra, plus vocal soloists Delcina Stevenson, Philip Creech and John Matthews, achieved this plateau. It restored one's pleasure in the piece.

Leading up to this climax, Alexander & Co. provided beautiful sounds and clean singing and playing, but many fewer contrasts, not to mention consonants.

Brahms' "Academic Festival" Overture showed again the strengths and finesse of the instrumentalists of the Pacific Symphony. The same composer's "Naenie" brought the orchestra and Pacific Chorale together for a small orgy of ravishing sounds.

Alas, Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Serenade to Music," arguably a masterwork fairly dripping with autumnal colors and Brahmsian harmonies, plows the same ground as "Naenie," and in the same key. A little gin-and-tonic from Stravinsky would have been more appropriate at this point in the program. Lacking that, however, Vaughan Williams' warm chocolate was accorded a gorgeous, mellow and touching reading that realized most of its beauties. Here, contralto Janet Smith joined Stevenson, Creech and Matthews--all four in splendid voice--in solo duty.

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