Kodaly Missa Brevis and Orff Carmina Burana
This was the first concert of the Philharmonic Society with its new conductor, Matthew Willis, and if this concert is any indication, then it seems to be in good hands. Matthew comes with excellent credentials, having conducted and performed with professional orchestras in prestigious locations in the UK, Europe and Russia. In choosing to perform the Missa Brevis by Zoltan Kodaly and Carl Orff’s massive Carmina Burana, he threw down his gauntlet to this amateur group that his standards and ambitions would be high and they rose very well to the challenge.
The Missa Brevis was originally composed as an organ mass in 1942 and then rearranged by Kodaly for chorus and orchestra in 1945, while he sheltered in the cellar of the Budapest Opera House from the Red Army bombardment, which sought to liberate the city from the Germans. How much these dark times impacted on the work is unclear but it is a dark and brooding piece in many places, juxtaposed by sudden high, sparkling textures such as those for reduced soprano voices in the Kyrie. These rapid vocal and emotional shifts make it testing for the choir and the orchestra needs to be especially sympathetic. The acoustic of Tonbridge Chapel makes it difficult for any group to put across the subtleties, especially in the more complex textures, but Matthew Willis provided clear leadership and brought his troops safely through an intense journey.
Carmina Burana made a pleasing pairing, employing as it does very similar forces with Soprano, Tenor and Baritone soloists, though with significant, exhilarating additions to the percussion section. However, the moods and sound world could not be more different. Everyone in the Chapel seemed uplifted by the driving rhythms, simplistic melodies and sometimes bawdy lyrics.
The soloists have far greater scope to characterise and deliver in this piece and each was impressive and a delight. Njabulo Madlala (baritone) was a late replacement and stole our hearts with his intensely moving ‘Omnia sol temperat’ and equally the outrageous, sozzled ‘Ego sum Abbas’. Andrew Glover (Tenor) gave a superb account of the notoriously high and difficult roasting swan in ‘Olim lacus colueram’. Finally, soprano Susan Young was at once saucy, enticing and majestic, bringing great vocal flexibility to her performance.
The conductor lowered his baton at the end of ‘O Fortuna’ to resounding applause and a standing ovation.
Welcome to Tonbridge, Matthew. Fortune certainly favoured the brave tonight.
“Extraordinary” “gave me the tingles” audience member after the Carmina Burana concert November 2014