Orff Carmina Burana, Bernstein Chichester Psalms

By W. L. Hoffmann (Canberra Times, Friday 19th May 2000)

It was a program of attractive and constantly enjoyable 20th-century choral music that the ANU Choral Society presented in Llewellyn Hall last Saturday night, sung and played with great spirit and with consistent regard for the expressive demands of each of the two works presented.

With 110 singers, the ANU choir is now one of the largest of local choral groups. However, under the strong and assured control of young Canberra-born conductor Tobias Foskett, who has been its musical director for the past three years, the singing was always of a fine tonal quality, with an excellent balance maintained between the sections of the choir.

Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, written in 1965 for England's Three Choirs Festival, has become one of the most frequently performed of his non-theatre compositions. It is stylistically eclectic, the sharp contrasts of mood within its three movements realised over a range of vocal and instrumental means, and underlined by a distinctively varied rhythmic impulse.

With strong solo contributions from mezzo Kathryn Handsaker and alert and pointed singing from the choir, it was a pleasing performance that nicely captured the music's contrasts as it swept from the boisterous to the lyrical.

Carl Orff's cantata Carmina Burana made an ideal companion piece. It is also eclectic in style, though in a very different manner, as it realises the medieval feeling of the poetry on which it is based, and it too has a very strong rhythmic component. With an orchestra of over 50 players, the performance was suitably exciting and sonorous in its more vigorous moments.

But it was not all vim and vigour. Under the conductor's firm direction the singing was always well balanced and alert, precise in attack and with controlled dynamic variations, while with equally strong but controlled playing the orchestra made a significant contribution to the success of the performance.

The soloists were an excellent trio - baritone Michael Lewis providing sonorous contributions to the In Springtime first section, tenor Dominic Harvey being suitably lachrymose as the roasting swan during the In the Tavern scene, and soprano Lorena Gore bringing a silver tonal quality to The Court of Love, particularly in the very lovely melody which illuminates the song In truitina.

In total, a performance of Carmina Burana to relish and enjoy.