The flute solo mentioned in Joseph McLellan's review of the National Symphony's Tuesday night performance of "Carmina Burana" was performed by Thomas Perazzoli, not by Toshiko Kohno as stated in the review.
"No chain can hold me," sang the Archpoet -- sort of underground leader although he wrote his rabble-rousing verses in ecclesiastical Latin. "No key can stop me. I look around for my peers and I end up with the dregs of society."
Last night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, the Archpoet's words were sung by baritone Dominic Cossa. A minute later he was the Abbot of Cucania, chanting what sounded like a sequence from a Latin mass until you deciphered the words: "My counsel is with the drinkers and in the sect of the Dicers is my will."
In back of him, the massed voices of the Oratorio Society and the Washington Cathedral boys' choir were also constantly shifting roles. As members of the Abbot's congregation, they were drinkers in a tavern chanting toasts in a rapidly accelerating litany, raising their tankards to popes and prostitutes alike. As the chant gained momentum, the whole world was included in the drinking bout: "Boys drink and old men . . .the bishop and the deacon . . . the nun and the friar . . . this one and that one . . . hundreds drink; thousands drink . . . and although we drink with happy minds, everyone snaps at us."
The music was Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," in a smashing performance -- not perfect but overwhelming and unforgettable -- with Rafael Fru hbeck de Burgos conducting the National Symphony Orchestra and a stage full of singers.
In the "Carmina Burana," behind the smokescreen of the old Latin (with occasional bits of German and French), we have the anthems of a 700-year-old counterculture: the wandering university students who were the most undisciplined element in the rigid social structure of medieval Europe, crossing borders, living riotously, and at home in any country because everyone they might want to talk to could get along in a sort of Latin.
Seen in perspective, the world of "Carmina Burana" is much like the world of the '60s; the themes of the songs are mockery of the establishment, a celebration of sexual liberation (alias profane love), mind-altering chemicals (alias wine) and the occult -- specifically, the inscrutable goddess Fortuna, who is worshipped at the dice tables and rewards or punishes her worshippers for no apparent reason.
Carl Orff, in his spectacular 1937 setting of the old words, has caught the spirit of these long-dead students in vivid colors: reckless energy; wild irreverence coexisting with superstition; lightning-fast swings from a high manic state to deep depression; intense eroticism; yearning for the unattainable and even occasional outbursts of crazy idealism. It is all there in the music: fuel for a massive orchestra and chorus, three solo singers and a small army of percussionists. It may not be the most profound music in the world, but it can generate electricity in a good performance. It did so last night.
Fru hbeck is a complete master of this massive score in all its nuances, as he demonstrated from the opening bars -- a thunderous chorus invoking the goddess Fortuna. At its climactic points, the music was overwhelming in sheer volume, but some of the most memorable passages were the quietest -- notably a duet between the flute of Toshiko Kohno and the whispering tympani of Fred Begun during the Dance, which is the only purely instrumental section in the whole work. Sometimes, the massive chorus was held down to the merest suggestion of sound, right at the borderline of audibility and occasionally (in a few lines of the drinkers' litany, for example) even below it. In the penultimate chorus, "Ave formosissima," he sometimes drove his performers at a speed where they slipped beyond control -- but at such points, even the mistakes were exciting.
Among the soloists, baritone Cossa had the most prolonged and colorful work, but tenor David Britton did as well as a mere human can with the impossibly demanding song about the roast swan, and soprano Gwendolyn Bradley sang exquisite high notes with beautiful phrasing in the "Court of Love" section.
The program opened with Joaquin Turina's "Sinfonia sevillana," played to mark the composer's 100th anniversary. A well-crafted piece of impressionism with some stirring dance motifs in its third movement, it sounded pale and under-rehearsed on the same program with the "Carmina Burana."
Tomorrow's repeat performance is sold out, but there are still some tickets for Friday night and for the Sunday matinee, when the conductor will be Hugh Wolff, while Fru hbeck conducts "Carmen" in the Opera House.