The evening began with Ritirate notturna di Madrid, by Boccherini (1743-1805), arranged by modern composer Luciana Berio (1925-2003). It was a charming, short piece with little evidence of Berio’s modern work. The program notes were very informative in explaining Boccherini’s intention of portraying an approaching, and then departing, band on a street in Madrid.
Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1 was composed as one movement, and although it was fast-paced, the various sections were easily discernable. Although it had its moments of beauty and interesting instrumentation layering, it was our least favorite of the evening.
The highlight of the evening was Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. The music is incredibly dramatic and used to that effect in various movies. Probably everyone in the world has heard the opening “O Fortuna.” Text and translation were provided in a separate 4 page insert and the noise of paper rustling was disconcerting at times. If one is unfamiliar with the text, the issue becomes whether to follow along with the translations or to sit back and wrap yourself in the music. It’s a difficult call.
By not following along or not knowing the text, one might wonder at the shrill, grating solo by Brad Diamond (Oh, you’re a swan being roasted; in that case, well done.) One would also miss the ribaldry and humor of the poems.
The other two soloists had much bigger roles to play. Carrie Hennessey sang beautifully with her smooth, soprano voice, but Aaron St Clair Nicholson was the star of the night. His baritone range was extensive and each solo was expressively performed. There were a few times, however, when the chorus seemed to be overwhelming him.
The Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus was very powerful yet so controlled. There was never a voice hanging on after a cut-off and the performance was extraordinary. Occasionally throughout the work, the Grand Rapids Youth Chorus rose to play their part in the performance. At the conclusion, Music Director David Lockington looked quite pleased, and the audience was as well.