Review: Carmina Burana

Simon Hale visits Symphony Hall with the CBSO in residence.

Spring was celebrated in all its joy at Symphony Hall as the CBSO captivated a capacity audience with a thrilling performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.

Kazuki Yamada (pictured) made his presence felt in his first concert as the orchestra’s new chief conductor by conducting this great choral work based on medieval texts with exhilarating energy and panache.

Four choirs stationed across the choir stalls and the balconies sang with passion and precision as Yamada maintained a high-tempo rhythm in the many powerful sections beginning and ending with the famous “O Fortuna” anthem popularly used in all kinds of media.

The CBSO Chorus, University of Birmingham Voices, CBSO Youth Chorus and CBSO Children’s Chorus under chorus master Julian Wilkins all found their softer and humorous voices too in the cantata’s great themes of Spring, the countryside, the tavern and the world of love.

Full marks went to soprano Jennifer France in a strikingly seductive red dress and to baritone Morgan Pearse in suitably jaunty attire, both of whom stepped in at short notice because of illness to the original soloists yet sang the two main challenging solo roles superbly in character. They were joined by tenor Mathias Rexroth providing much of the bawdy to balance the sublime as highlighted by Jennifer France’s beautifully sultry reading of the In Trutina aria in which her character ponders whether to seek love or remain chaste.

There was also plenty of colour provided by the solo instruments, especially the flute, percussion and brass players, among a huge and consistently inspiring orchestra.

The evening included a performance resonating continuity in Andrzej Panufnik’s Sinfonia Sacra. Panufnik was chief conductor of the CBSO from 1957 to 1959 and this, his most popular work, was premiered in 1964 by Louis Fremaux in Monte Carlo before he too became a CBSO chief conductor. As the latest in the line Yamada brought out all the emotional power in the piece, based as it is on the earliest known hymn in the Polish language, driving its ancient melody that began in fragments with a discourse between four trumpets all the way to its rousing full-blown expression.

In a sign that great times lie ahead for the orchestra, the concert ended loudly and joyfully not only with a standing ovation but also a balloon drop to mark a new era and to pay tribute to Stephen Maddock after completing 24 years as the CBSO’s chief executive.

The CBSO will take to the stage of Symphony Hall on Sunday, April 30th at 3pm to perform works by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich in aid of the CBSO Benevolent Fund. The orchestra will return on Wednesday, May 3rd for Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Brahms’s Violin Concerto. For tickets call 0121 780 3333 or book online at

Pics – Rob Perks (front), Zuzanna Specjal (this page).