Cleveland Orchestra enjoys good fortune with Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’

August 27, 2018

Cleveland Orchestra enjoys good fortune with Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’

CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio – The Cleveland Orchestra took something of a chance Saturday, and it paid off. Big time.

For its last traditional concert of the season, the group handed the baton not to an established maestro but rather to Adrien Perruchon, a French percussionist and up-and-comer in the small world of conducting.

It wasn’t just the season finale, either. The evening, televised to the audience on giant screens, also marked the 50th anniversary of the Blossom Festival Chorus and a debut before a packed Blossom Music Center with none other than Orff’s beloved “Carmina Burana,” an enormous work comprised of about a million moving parts.

Turns out it wasn’t such a risk. Perruchon didn’t just get the orchestra through the program, which included Copland’s “Statements.” He also proved to be a conductor of striking talent, bringing clarity to Copland’s complex miniatures and treating “Carmina” to a refreshingly crisp and spacious performance.

Its dull title notwithstanding, Copland’s “Statements” is in fact a work of considerable interest. Between six short pieces with enigmatic names, the piece from 1935 covers the modernist bases with music ranging from bright and rhythmic to lyrical and contemplative.

A stickler for articulation, Perruchon kept the orchestra firmly on its toes. The orchestra, meanwhile, illuminated the brief work from the inside with a string of radiant solos. Among them: assistant principal flutist Marisela Sager, associate principal horn Michael Mayhew, principal trumpet Michael Sachs, and assistant principal clarinet Daniel McKelway.

Perruchon’s musical personality came into even clearer focus in “Carmina Burana,” an oratorio celebrating the joys of love and the fickle nature of life. Even as he wielded massive forces including two choruses, three soloists, and a full orchestra, the conductor brought off a spacious, nuanced, and distinctly lithe performance.

The now 50-year-old chorus was as potent and expressive as ever. To each and every musical demand by Orff, the singers, augmented by the charming Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus, rose with aplomb. They were a fierce, daunting force one moment, an exuberant crowd the next, and still later, a band of angels. They proved true the assertion that Blossom was built for choral music.

Vocal music alone is another matter. Both baritone Elliot Madore and tenor Matthew Plenk were difficult to hear Saturday, a shame given that both seemed well-suited to their roles. Madore brought humor and a winning tenderness to his diverse scenes, while Plenk, as the roasting swan, sounded beautiful and miserable at once.

No such troubles befell Audrey Luna. On her Cleveland Orchestra debut, the soprano was flat-out magnificent (and perfectly audible), wielding a glorious high range and lacing her solos with rare, poignant doses of warmth and vulnerability.

With that, another Blossom Music Festival season came to a resounding, reverberant close. Three nights of “Star Wars: A New Hope” are next, followed by a break and the beginning of a new season at Severance Hall. “O, Fortuna,” indeed.

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