The Lexington Philharmonic presented a spectacular concert Friday night, offering two 20th century masterpieces that celebrate sensuality: Alexander Scriabin’s erotic The Poem of Ecstasy and Carl Orff’s pagan oratorio Carmina Burana. Music director Scott Terrell led the proceedings with a sure hand, superbly coordinating the massive musical forces, which for the Orff included a wonderful chorus of more than two hundred voices comprised of five choirs from academic institutions around the region.
The Poem of Ecstasy uncoils its passion in one continuous movement in ravishing, undulating music that grows to a sublime climax. Terrell could have gone further with dynamics at both the soft and loud ends of the spectrum, and a more diaphanous texture throughout would have allowed all the little flourishes and countermelodies to emerge more clearly. Furthermore, there were several ragged entrances at key transitions, including the opening chord. But these complaints are churlish in light of the otherwise magnificent playing by the orchestra.
The all-important trumpet solos were thrillingly rendered by Stephen Campbell, as were other key solos by concertmaster Daniel Mason on violin, flutist Pei-San Chiu, and oboist Aryn Day Sweeney. All the woodwinds and strings performed beautifully, and the brass were truly stunning, especially in the stratospheric passages for the French horns at the end of the piece. The Philharmonic’s phalanx of percussion instruments added vibrant colors to the musical texture with their usual splendor.
Other than Messiah, there is probably no choral work more frequently performed than Carmina Burana. But for all its ubiquity, I have never heard a tighter or more exciting performance of the work than the Philharmonic offered on Friday night.
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The fabulous chorus was a small village of singers assembled from the Berea College Concert Choir, Eastern Kentucky University Singers, the SCAPA (School for Creative and Performing Arts) Children’s Choir, Transylvania University Choir, and the University of Kentucky Chorale. Their vocalism and diction alike were spot on in this impressive demonstration of choral talent.
The guest soloists were also excellent. Soprano Amanda Woodbury displayed her luscious middle voice and gleaming high voice in a charming performance, and Daniel Shirley embodied the roasting swan in the tenor aria’s cruelly high tessitura with élan. (Special mention as well to the flutes’ exceptional flutter-tonguing technique in the dying swan solo.) Baritone Chad Sloan also gave a very engaging performance, although his mellifluous sound was compromised by his singing slightly under pitch throughout a lot of his music.
The orchestra shone brilliantly in Carmina Burana. Everyone played their hearts out, investing the work with the primitive verve it requires.
Simply put, it was a glorious night for the trumpets. They played with perfect precision and intonation throughout the evening, making the most of every musical gesture. The percussion section evinced complete authority in this complex work, led by James Campbell holding forth on the xylophone with astonishing, meticulous accuracy. The refulgent tones of Skip Gray’s elegant tuba playing anchored the orchestra’s sonorities to great effect.
I have commented in previous reviews that I feel Terrell does not allow the strings to play with incisive enough presence in the symphonic blend. That was especially true in this performance, but the LPO strings did provide the foundational warm wash of sound that Terrell’s aesthetic seems to favor.
All in all, this was an outstanding concert by the Lexington Philharmonic, and the enthusiastic audience expressed its approval in a clamorous, sustained ovation at the evening’s end.