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There was a good turnout in Meymandi Hall for an enterprising program of orchestral and choral music featuring the North Carolina Master Chorale and the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra led by the chorale's music director Alfred E. Sturgis. Unlike many of my CVNC Raleigh-based colleagues, I had not heard either ensemble since the early 1980s. It was heartening to see and to hear how much both groups had expanded as well as how much their technical skills had improved.
One of my favorite tone poems is "Francesca da Rimini," Op. 32 by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, (1840-93) which has been too seldom programmed in our area. The composer was inspired by the account of the punishment of the illicit lovers Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta in Canto V of Inferno by Dante Alighieri. Francesca was married to the abusive hunchback Gianciotto Malatesta, fell in love with his brother Paolo, and the pair was murdered by the furious husband. Dante describes the lovers' souls' eternal torment, physically conjoined but kept from touching by an unceasing raging tempest. The slow and stern opening conveys the hopelessness of hell and leads to music conjuring up the tempest. A solo clarinet spins out Francesca's tragic tale, leading to a return of the raging winds. Sturgis led a solid traditional interpretation and drew some very fine playing from the community orchestra. The large string sections played with good unanimity and warm tone. The cellos were especially good in the romantic sections. Woodwinds were strong and the clarinet solo played by Jim Williams was beautifully phrased. The brass sections played with good control.
I approached listening to the Carmina Burana by Carl Orff (1895-1982) with trepidation having just reviewed an outstanding performance at UNC Chapel Hill a week earlier. Sturgis led a traditional interpretation free of eccentricities. Balances between sections of the chorus and the orchestra were very good. Rhythms were carefully controlled. The diction of the Master Chorale was very good, reflecting thorough preparation. The bulk of the solo music is for the baritone and Jason McKinney's warm tone and robust projection were most welcome. His enunciation was clear in the fastest passages and his vocal range was wide from a solid low end to steady sound during the brief, near-falsetto episode. One of the most popular sections of Carmina Burana is the song of the roasting duck. Conductor Sturgis is also a fine tenor so it was amusing to see him turn to face the audience and declaim the high tessitura of the duck's complaints with aplomb! The passionate soprano part was performed superbly by soprano Amy Wagar. Her careful delivery of her last solo lines was excellent. Her evenly supported voice has a pleasing timbre.