Toronto Symphony 2018-2019 #5: Romantic Opulence and Worldly Pleasures

Ken Stephen, Large Stage Live!

It’s just two years since the Toronto Symphony staged a performance of Carl Orff’s spectacular cantata, Carmina Burana, and partnered it with a violin concerto by a twentieth-century composer.

Maestro Runnicles led a tautly-conceived performance, with brisk tempi predominating.  If some of the faster sections rolled along more rapidly than one usually hears, there was contrast in the much slower-than-usual speed of some of the slow sections.  The numerous tempo changes, both sudden and gradual, all remained firmly integrated — a shining example being the smooth acceleration in each of the five verses of Tempus est iocundum.  He also respected the composer’s call for all the movements within each of the cantata’s five sections to be played attacca, even to the point of having the opening notes of Fortune plango vulnera “appearing” as the echoes from O Fortuna‘s final chord died away.

Runnicles also called for an interesting change in the seating plan.  Other performances I’ve attended have placed the two pianos alongside the percussion section — which I think is entirely appropriate since their role in the work is rhythmic.  Runnicles had the two pianos placed face-to-face in front of the podium.  The curious result was that the pianos were often far less audible — whether because of the position, or because the maestro had them hold down their volume.

The combined forces of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Toronto Youth Choir acquitted themselves magnificently throughout the cantata, from the majestic opening cry of O Fortuna to the rapid-fire yet still completely clear diction of In taberna quando sumus or Veni, veni, venias.  The steadiness of the tone was noteworthy and the choral blend across the full dynamic range was an unfailing delight.

The Toronto Children’s Chorus, too, sang their more limited role in the work with precision and purity, and with earthy gusto — particularly in Tempus est iocundum.

Read the full review here.