The Sacred and the Profane: Carmina Burana a Masterworks Triumph for TBSO

By Kyle Poluyko

The Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra presented its fifth offering from its Masterworks series Thursday night, Carl Orff`s scenic cantata Carmina Burana.  Commonly recognized for its beginning “O Fortuna” heard by the masses in film, on stage and television – an unknown-yet-well-known work – the electrifying and evocative strains of Orff’s 1936 composition were just one intense and vivid offering in the programme.

The evening began with a selection by Berlioz, Le carnival romantic or The Roman Carnival (1843).  Hypnotic and dreamlike, the symphony was rich and full in its execution of the piece yet warm and tender as the symphonic delight bathed over the patrons.  Led by Conductor Arthur Post, the symphony played with exuberant precision.  Fluid was the transition between fervent pursuance and softer phrases, building carefully and exquisitely to thrilling crescendo.  The richness and power of each instrument (and their players) could be heard and distinguished even as the symphony played as one.

Next in the programme was Messiaen’s Les offrandes oubliees or The Forgotten Offerings (1930).  As with most of Messiaen’s works, The Forgotten Offerings is explicitly religious and a mark of his devout faith.  Performed in three movements, it commenced as beautifully haunting, tragically tender and tremulous. The piece then transitioned into a powerful, fervent and dramatic performance played entrancingly by the orchestra, determined and suspenseful before the final movement and intermission, steady, gentle – profoundly sad.

Orff’s Carmina Burana is both the sacred and the profane, of romance and fleshly desire.  It confronts issues that are prevalent today: fate, fortune, love, sex, drink, and gambling.  The 12th century Latin text of 24 poems is arranged in by thematic content: O Fortuna, Fortune and Empress of the World, Springtime, In the Tavern and The Court of Love.  The chorus featured the TBSO Chorus, the Lakehead University Vocal Ensemble and the Rafiki Youth Chorus, all well-rehearsed and remarkable in their collective performance.  Powerful in their voce forte and tender in their sotto voce, they were perfectly in sync with respect to vocal performance uniting with the symphonic prestige.

The soloists, baritone Michael Nyby, tenor Christopher Pfund and soprano Jacqueline Woodley, each gave remarkable vocal performances.  Nyby has incredible control and command of his tender and rich baritone.  Pfund is gifted with the ability to powerfully reach notes higher than the rafters, yet just as intense in softer moments.  Woodley, too, possesses remarkable control of her clear, colourful and luxuriant soprano, with vibrato that could entice angels or demons, should she choose.

This penultimate Masterworks concert of the 2014/2015 season was exultation for the TBSO and its patrons alike.  As one patron stated, it is one of the strongest reasons to live in Thunder Bay.