Sonic Hooks and Sambas
Mann Center for the Performing Arts
Felix Mendelssohn: Symphony no. 4 in A major (Italian) Op. 90
Carl Orff: Carmina Burana
Heidi Grant Murphy (soprano), Brian Asawa (countertenor), Stephen Powell (baritone)
The Philadelphia Singers Chorale, David Hayes (musical director), The Philadelphia Orchestra, Giancarlo Guerrero (conductor)
(Courtesy of the Philadelphia Orchestra)
In his first appearance in front of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Maestro Giancarlo Guerrero exuded warmth in his brief introductory remarks about the popularity of the two work works he was about to conduct. This was also the first of three performances by the Fab Phils, in a shortened 2011 home summer series at the outdoor Mann Center.
Guerrero left some audience members scratching their heads, when he launched into Mendelssohn, skipping the first piece listed in the program, Eugene Ormandy’s arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner, as is tradition. Guerrero immediately rapturous in the allegro of the Italian, but it was in the second movement, showed his accents and range - drawing out the shadows, and a pulsing orchestral drive that may have even been paying homage to Rossini, woodwinds just draw you closer to the inner beauty of the piece and the strings sonorous tones bathing the environs.
The Mann is an outdoor amphitheater, but even with its v-shell, sound projection can be a problem. When the air is sultry, as it was on this night, it can make for squirrelly sound equalizing. Guerrero seemed to be addressing that right up front with Mendelssohn, launching it with grand esprit and precision.
The climaxes were fast and furious for the marquee event that followed and Guerrero didn’t hold anything back in the Fortuna opening of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, from the start he set it at sonic boom range- The Philadelphia Singers were orgiastic, the percussion maniacally concussive. Guerrero introduced the piece by saying it was Orff’s one hit wonder. Guerrero could drive home the drama, but let chunks of the rest of it slip away from him.
Orff’s musical vignettes tend to stand alone, and inventive pacing to make it a cohesive whole, is crucial. Guerrero speeded up the bombastic sections, making them all the more thrilling, even verging on militaristic, but, unlike the Mendelssohn, he was not able to bring much dimension to the quieter passages. The forward narrative remained disjointed, the sum of its parts. There are very bumpy transitions built into this piece, the most cohesive thing about it is the chorus. This performance seemed to point up how it relies on the opening and closing hooks to make it.
The text montage of Latin, French, German poems about love, lust, greed, metaphysics are pretty campy and well delivered by these soloists, even if they seemed, in moments, a bit detached. Stephen Powell has such a fluid baritone; he very inventively incorporated tenor and bass parts of his characterizations of various parts with ease and skill. The audience loved his staggering (physically and vocally) as the drunk Abbott. Brian Asawa, memorably, crafted a faux exoticism in the countertenor sections, as the beatified roasted swan. Soprano Heidi Grant Murphy approach had a studied quality, but bloomed in serene stratospheres in the odd virgin musing of In truitina mentis.
The Philadelphia Singers Chorale was a predictable powerhouse, under the direction of David Hayes, but atypically sounded frayed on some of the resolves. No matter, that reprise of Fortuna, which everyone anticipates, thundered in so powerfully and was met with triumphal approval from the audience. Maestro Guerrero was fun to watch during Carmina, his reflexive dancing distracted- driving a spike into the ground during or the next his hips were sway to an inner samba. The Mann Center is about showpieces and this was what the audience came for.
The Philadelphia Orchestra
The Philadelphia Singers