Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 15
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
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Westminster Symphony Choir Brings “Carmina Burana” to Princeton Church

Nancy Plum

The Princeton Presbyterian Church has recently reinvented itself in its mission to serve the community. With a new sanctuary for worship, the church has also designated itself the Princeton Meadow Event Center to present arts performances. The inaugural event in the new center took place last Saturday night as the Westminster Symphonic Choir, in a rare Princeton area performance, performed one of choral music’s biggest crowd pleasers. The text of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana was more suited to the Event Center mission of the church than its ecclesiastical activities, but whether church or center, the hall was sold out for this entertaining evening of choral singing.

Orff compiled Carmina Burana from poems and dramatic texts of 13th century Goliards, a group of clerical students who wrote satirical Latin poetry in the 12th and 13th centuries. These poems celebrate life, love, and fortune (mostly love), and some are a bit risqué, including a tavern scene scored mostly for men’s chorus. The work is customarily performed with single soprano, tenor, and baritone soloists, but as the solos cover a wide range of vocal styles, conductor Joe Miller took advantage of Westminster Symphonic Choir’s talent and assigned a different singer for each solo. This variety gave the piece significantly more depth than merely hiring three outsiders.

One of the most exceptional soloists, who had one of the hardest solos of all, sang at the very end of the piece. Soprano Jessica Mary Murphy had the unenviable task of singing to a high “B” from the outset (and subsequently to a high “D”) in an incredibly soft dynamic, and demonstrated great control in the ensuing line. Her immediately previous solo was sung together with the Princeton Girlchoir (who were prepared by Lynnel Joy Jenkins to sing the treble choir parts), during which she showed great animation and seemed to encourage the girls on in their music. Soprano Audrey Klein also proved to be a very solid singer with a lyrical and graceful style.

The other voice part represented in great quantity was the baritone voice — there were seven solos for bass/baritone, all different in style and vocal demands, and some requiring great shifts between vocal registers. Corey Everly had one of the tougher assignments, as his solo moved from the middle register to falsetto to low bass. Mr. Everly’s high register in particular was very good. Anthony Baron showed he has the makings of a powerful bass in his seduction aria with the women of the chorus, and Daniel Elder, Scott Purcell, Robert Kelly, and Karol Nowicki, all members of the Symphonic Choir, stepped out of the chorus for effective solos.

The hardest solo job of the evening belonged to tenor Shane Magargal, who sang the quirky aria sung from the point of view of the unfortunate swan who is about to become the main course at dinner. This aria stretches into the stratosphere of the tenor range, challenging singers to decide whether to extend their vocal ranges or sing in falsetto. Mr. Magargal was definitely on top of the range, but may have had an easier time if he had remembered that this is a character aria — a bit of vocal nonconformity would have been welcome.

The Westminster Symphonic Choir entered the church like an army, and seemed to just keep coming down the aisle from the back of the sanctuary. This kind of piece is right up the Choir’s musical alley, and filling the chancel area from side to side together with the Festival Orchestra, the Choir had no trouble managing the vocal lines. The chant sections, such as those in the early movements of the work, showed cleaner unisons between soprano and tenor than between alto and bass, and the tenors were especially impressively clean given their lesser numbers compared to the rest of the choir.

A major role of the Westminster Symphonic Choir is to provide the chorus for the New York Philharmonic and other orchestras in the area. It is rare that the choir performs on its own, but in recent years, depending on the outside performing schedule, the Symphonic Choir has presented stand-alone concerts. Saturday night’s performance in Princeton Presbyterian Church was a rare and welcome opportunity for the community to hear this ensemble without traveling to New York or Philadelphia.

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