I spent an enjoyable hour yesterday afternoon at Ursinus College, where I attended a performance of Carmina Burana, surely the most famous cantata ever written about drinking and horniness. It’s by no means a great work, but it went down well on a sunny spring afternoon when the trees were blooming and the young women on campus were parading about in their gym shorts. The version I heard yesterday was for reduced forces – chorus, soloists, two pianos and percussion -- which emphasized Orff’s debt to Stravinsky’s Les Noces, but which I preferred to my overblown orchestral recording.
John French conducted, wearing an academic robe and a tasseled beret. He said afterward he wore it as a joke a joke on the singers. He called it his medieval costume, and indeed, he did somewhat resemble the statue of Zacharias Ursinus that stands on the lawn between the concert hall and the art museum.
The instrumentalists were from the University of Delaware Percussion Ensemble, directed by Harvey Price, whom I came to know in 2012 when a group of Delawareans performed Pierrot Lunaire at the German Society of Pennsylvania. Standouts for me were the lovely, light tone of the women’s chorus in “Chume, chum, geselle min” and tenor Robert O’Neill’s cracked falsetto in “Olim lacus colueram,” the song of the swan as it is roasted slowly on a spit. O’Neill was very funny, fanning himself with his score, though it didn’t seem most of the audience picked up on the joke. (Strangely, that was all he had to do.)
Oh, and I didn’t mention the concert was free. Ursinus has a great music program with many free concerts during the year.
Next Sunday, the Independence Sinfonia will play Haydn’s 103rd and Mahler’s 4th in Fort Washington.