The Choral Art Society of New Jersey, under the direction of Martin Sedek, offered a compelling multimedia rendition of Carl Orff’s secular masterpiece Carmina Burana — which celebrates spring and young love — April 29 at The Presbyterian Church in Westfield. Soprano Mia Pafumi, tenor Theron Cromer and bass Matthew Ciuffitelli accompanied the choral ensemble, with dancers Rebecca Ibarra, Andrew Collings, Arthur Thornton and Caroline Yamada (from the LatticeWorks Dance Collective) providing interpretive animations and the New Jersey Youth Chorus adding the sound of youthful vitality from the balcony. The orchestra included a number of percussive instruments; two pianos, played by Mary Beth McFall and Carol Walker, provided much of the lyrical instrumental fabric of the work.
This exciting piece of choral repertoire — which debuted in 1937 in Frankfurt, Germany — was inspired by the secular songs and writings found in a manuscript from a Benedictine monastery founded in the year 733 in the town of Benediktbeuern, thirty miles south of Munich. These writings were in Latin as well as the vernacular of the time, Middle High German, with some sections in French and Greek.
The work is divided into three sometimes saucy chapters, with lines such as “The merry face of spring turns into the world, sharp winter now flees, vanquished”; “I travel the broad path as is the way of youth, I give myself to vice, unmindful of virtue, I am eager for the pleasures of the flesh more than for salvation, my soul is dead, so I shall look after the flesh”; and “Cupid flies everywhere seized by desire. Young men and women are rightly coupled. The girl without a lover misses out on all the pleasures, she keeps the dark night hidden in the depth of her heart; it is a most bitter fate.”
This was not a full symphonic version of the work; with the reduced orchestration, the musicians were completely exposed as individual performers, which made it even more exciting to hear each one performing his or her parts with great accuracy, tonality, musicality and, most important for this piece, vigor. Timpani percussion by Adrienne Ostrander was not only strong and driving, but looked like a lot of fun to perform. The complicated rhythms and syncopation highlighted throughout the work were often complex and pianists McFall and Walker performed the yeoman’s work of the evening.
The well-known opening, grand and ominous, sounded powerful and was enhanced by the great acoustics in the church hall, which is a combination of wood, plaster and carpet. The chorus sounded full and well-rounded and highlighted articulate, accurate pronunciation of the text. The tempo shifts and mood swings were well-negotiated by the chorus. Sedek prepared the ensemble well and led them without too much of the animated fuss one has come to expect from too many over-demonstrative choral leaders.
Solo voice performances were excellent. Cromer was intense and articulate in a part that called for the occasional falsetto voice. Pafumi’s performance was bright and melodic. Ciuffitelli shed intense light from the stage with the truly exciting and playful presence that is demanded of his racy role. His strong, sonorous, agile voice is pure baritone delight. With his onstage charm, presence and sheer talent, he is an artist to follow in the opera and Broadway music scenes.
The four dancers offered a beautiful onstage visual in their several interpretive dance sections, including The Merry Face of Spring and The Round Dance.
The New Jersey Youth Chorus was a delightful treat whose young, vibrant voices received a grand ovation at the conclusion of the performance.
Carmina Burana was well-received by an enthusiastic audience in Westfield, and was a testament to the resurgence of great music, fast returning to a once again vibrant classical concert scene in the cities and suburbs of the Garden State.
For more on the Choral Art Society of New Jersey, visit casofnj.org.
Experienced choral singers are invited to attend rehearsals on Tuesday evenings from 7:30 to 10 a.m. in the choir rehearsal room of The Presbyterian Church in Westfield; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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