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Cum laude

Symphony Hall
11/23/2012 –  & November 24*, 25, 2012
Marjan Mozetich: Procession of Duos
Carl Orff: Carmina burana

Celena Shafer (soprano), Javier Abreu (tenor), Craig Irvin (baritone)
The Phoenix Symphony Chorus, Thomas Bookhout (chorus master), The Phoenix Boys’ Choir, Georg Stangelberger (artistic director), The Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, Michael Christie (conductor)

The program opens with Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich’s (b. 1948) Procession of Duos. Per the program notes, the piece was commissioned for the Phoenix Symphony in 2008 “with the stipulation that the work highlight the various instruments of the orchestra. Taking the second movement, Giuoco delle coppie (Game of pairs) from Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra as structural example, Mozetich wrote sections for pairs of instruments, separated by interludes for the whole orchestra.” Procession of Duos opens with an orchestral fanfare that will serve as the main theme. Pairs of instruments are introduced, starting with the clarinet and cello, soon followed by trombone and tuba, horns, first and second violins, and flute. Varying the mood and tempo, the bassoons return to the main theme while a little swing in the pizzicato strings and percussion, along with the jazzy duet of the trumpets confer the piece a humorous side. Without any interpretive comparison, it is difficult to evaluate PSO’s performance, but entrances from the various chairs are precise and music that could easily turn into sloppy discordance is deftly handled by Christie’s clear-cut direction.

With Carmina burana after intermission, impressive musical forces are gathered on stage: ninety-eight choristers, sixty-five musicians, twenty-eight members of the Phoenix Boys’ Choir, three soloists and one conductor, for a grand total of one hundred and ninety-five artists.

Michael Christie’s vigorous conducting steadily builds momentum with controlled dynamics and rhythmic force, clearly reflecting the hedonistic, pagan subject matter with relentless exuberance and vitality. The mighty explosions of sound are well in place with remarkable contributions from the percussion and timpani sections led respectively by Bill Wanser and Bruce Pulk. Also worthy of praise – albeit slightly dimmed by some uncertain entrances and cutoffs – are the brass and wind departments with first trumpeter Charles Berginc’s sparkling contribution, as well as principal flautist Viviana Cumplido Wilson’s lyrical solos in “Uf dem Anger” and “Swaz hie gat umbe,” and principal bassoonist Bonnie Wolfgang in “Olim lacus colueram.”

A successful performance of Carmina Burana requires a strong, flexible chorus. The Phoenix Symphony Chorus used crisp diction, a huge range of well-controlled dynamics and a bit of fearless character singing to earn the cheers they received. The chugging rhythms of the framing “O fortuna,” ideally hurtled forward like a gleaming engine of the industrial age. Reinforcing PSC, the wonderful Phoenix Boys’ Choir, standing on the right side of the proscenium, brought pure and cleanly executed lines to the performance.

Baritone Craig Irvin, with the largest share of the duties, rose ably to the occasion with strong tone and colorful characterization, particularly in the high vocal lines of “Dies, nox et omnia.” Soprano Celena Shafer has a crystal clear voice that never sounded strained in the top register. Both added a little theatricality to a well-crafted Cour d’Amours. Tenor Javier Abreu gave a bravura account of “Olim lacus colueam.”


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