Choirs soar in challenging program


The Baltimore Choral Arts Society added another glorious page to its illustrious 30-year history with a stunning presentation of Carl Orff's scenic cantata "Carmina Burana" Saturday night.

The combined voices of the Choral Arts Society, the Morgan State University Choir, Goucher College Chorus and the Children's Chorus of Maryland gave their all to this lusty and earthy work, under the inspired baton of maestro Tom Hall in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The thunderous standing ovation was richly deserved.

The choir was magnificent all evening. Orff's music is taxing but wonderfully composed for a huge ensemble to undertake. The opening section, "O fortuna," was electrifying from the opening bars and got the cantata off to a roaring start. Ensemble and diction were impeccable, and the often bawdy text was dramatically and vocally convincing.

The soloists were all wonderful. Baritone Lawrence Craig conquered every hurdle Orff could offer. Mr. Craig was especially compelling in his "Ego sum abbas" in Part 2 of the cantata.

Tenor David Britton gave the audience a lavish amount of dark humor and wit, and he and Mr. Craig performed with energy and commitment.

Soprano Janice Chandler's contributions in Part 3 were glorious, and the stratospheric acrobatics involved in her solos were carried off with reckless abandon.

The orchestra was whittled down to two pianos and percussion. The sparse instrumentation worked 90 percent of the time. When it didn't, the clinking of pianos simply did not match the bravura of brass fanfares, and many times vital orchestral accompaniments simply were buried in the choral texture.

The five percussionists did shine in this orchestration, however, and timpanist Dennis Kain was masterful throughout.

The reduced orchestration was to allow space for the Kimberly Mackin Dance Company to perform front and center. The dancers did well, using only simple costumes and sparse lighting on a semi-darkened stage. The dance was interesting, but the many different components did not add up to a finished and fluid production.

The concert opened with two sets of American works. Of the three, Randall Thompson's "Alleluia, Amen" is the masterpiece, and the chorus showed why this work is so highly esteemed in the choral repertoire with a deeply moving rendition.

Nathan Carter got the best out of the combined choirs of Morgan State and the Choral Arts Society in Four Spirituals by Adolphus Hailstork. The two soprano soloists were spellbinding. Soprano Faith Okkema's voice was a little light next to Janice Chandler's vocal talents, but the two showed excellent balance.

The final spiritual, "He's got the Whole World in His Hands," closed the first half of the program with passion and joy.

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