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MSO: Rouse, Orff

Christopher Rouse: Flute Concerto (1993)
Orff: Carmina Burana

Madison Symphony Orchestra
Madison Symphony Chorus
Madison Boychoir
Madison Children's Choir
Stephanie Jutt, flute
Olivia Gorra, soprano
Robert Breault, tenor
Gordon Hawkins, baritone
John DeMain, conductor


Two full houses were on hand as John DeMain conducted the closing concerts of the Madison Symphony Orchestra's subscription season at the Civic Center Saturday and Sunday. Both times the audience rose instantly to their feet with wild applause, roaring shouts of "Bravo!" mingled with various whoops and whistles. I joined right in with the tumult because even allowing for the natural excitement of a major musical event like Carl Orff's 1935 masterpiece, Carmina Burana, the level of artistic accomplishment was satisfyingly high.

Indeed, Saturday evening there were two standing ovations, the first at intermission as flutist Stephanie Jutt concluded Christopher Rouse's 1993 Flute Concerto, a large, extraordinarily beautiful work in five movements lasting just over 30 minutes. The great technical demands of the two quick movements were capably handled by both soloist and orchestra, and in the second performance of the flanking elegaic slow movements the players surpassed themselves in expressive intensity.

The Carmina Burana requires a veritable armada to perform: the full MSO itself with augmented percussion, plus the Madison Symphony Chorus, the Madison Boychoir, the Madison Children's Choir, and three soloists, about 300 souls in all. Although the first performance was less overwhelming than I expected, the second held nothing back and achieved a high level of raw energy in accordance with the lusty, somewhat bawdy nature of the medieval Latin text, which celebrates love and the seasons.

Soprano Olivia Gorra sailed up to a stratospheric high D with ease and clarity. Tenor Robert Breault's lament of the roasted swan as it's about to be eaten was incredibly moving, a part that also lies well above the normal tenor range. Baritone Gordon Hawkins too had to cope with very high notes, immediately followed by very low ones, but made it seem easy, displaying a truly marvelous voice and an enormous expressive range. The choral singing too was of a very high calibre. DeMain's tempi and dynamic scaling always made musical sense, guiding these vast forces across a few minor rough spots in ensemble with very skillful command.

The acoustic deficiencies of the performance space were again highlighted by these large-scale works. I'm afraid the upward growth curve of town's leading musical assets will be held back unless our movers and shakers get busy moving and shaking to meet the challenge of building a real performing arts center here. These were very fine concerts; in the right space, they would have been much better.

Isthmus, May, 1998
Copyright 1998 Jess Anderson

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