Symphony presentation of Carmina Burana is a spectacle to remember

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 24, 2014

The Salisbury Symphony presented Carl Orff’s choral masterpiece Carmina Burana Saturday night in Keppel Auditorium. Conducted by David Hagy, the concert was a community extravaganza, incorporating three soloists, extra instruments and members of no less than eight local choral groups.
The opener for the concert was Toccata and Prelude from Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi (1607). Logistics of moving members of a full Symphony Orchestra and eight choruses on and off stage impelled Hagy to have everyone on stage for the Toccata and Prelude, with the curtain drawn in front of the burgeoning chorus. Conductor Hagy chose to use a full orchestra for this baroque chamber work, and in this case, more was not better. The full string complement was heavy, but Soprano Megan Cleaveland’s lovely cantations gave us a preview of the wonderful music coming up next in Carmina Burana.
More is better when you’re performing Carmena Burana, and Hagy did not disappoint. Joining forces with the Symphony were the Catawba College Singers, Concert Choir of Salisbury, Salisbury-Rowan Choral Society, Touring Chorus of the Winston-Salem Youth Chorus, and members of Livingstone College Concert Choir, Wake Forest University Concert Choir and Winston-Salem Symphony Chorale. The communal effort in pulling this off was a feat in itself. Soloists for the night were Megan Ann Cleaveland, Soprano, Leonard Rowe, Baritone, and Joshua Moyer, Tenor.
Carmina Burana is the perfect spring celebratory work of art. The work’s theme is fortune spinning us all around on a wheel; now we’re up, now we’re down. Throughout the composition, the characters are engaged in such spring feverish endeavors as innocent love, bawdy lyrics, gambling, dancing and drinking. Based on poems written by the Goliards in medieval times, the lyrics might describe contemporary college spring breaks. The spectacle of large choruses and full orchestra on stage not to mention the memorable music make Orff’s work popular concert fare.
The Children’s Chorus (Touring Chorus of the Winston-Salem Youth Chorus directed by Barbara Beattie) sang with pristine intonation and pure sound. The Men’s choral sections were generally weak, perhaps they could have used another dozen voices. Hagy outdid himself keeping the hundreds of singers and instrumentalists in sync. Several sections of the orchestra have improved and are sounding great, including the trumpets and flutes. Principal flutist Carla Copeland Burns turned out some beautiful solos.
Soloists Megan Ann Cleaveland and Leonard Rowe provided high points of the evening. Rowe recited with dramatic prowess peppered with humor in the song “I am the Abbot” and revealed mastery of a wide range in “Day, Night, and Everything.” In “Sweetest One,” Cleaveland’s agile voice leapt to high notes with flawless intonation and clarity. A graduate of University of North Carolina School for the Arts, Cleaveland has a bright future with her gorgeous voice.
For Salisbury music patrons, enjoying a high caliber performance of Carmina Burana without leaving town is something to treasure. Kudos to David Hagy, the Salisbury Symphony and all eight choruses for giving us a spectacle to remember.