The Joy Chorale
Esplanade Concert Hall
18 December 2016)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 20 December 2016 with the title "Seasonal cheer from a joyful chorale".
It is amazing how Carl Orff's Carmina Burana has become one of the most popular and performed of all choral works. Why performances of it have not been banned a long time ago remains a mystery. Its greatest indictment was that Nazis appropriated it as a glorification of German (read Aryan) peasantry and its racially “pure” values.
Then there are those Latin and antiquated German words extolling the joys of the tavern, feasting, drinking and underage sex. Not even meriting a M18 rating has its advantages. After all, how would one get all those children into the hall to sing lascivious lines like “Oh! Oh, Oh! I am bursting all over with love!”?
To present Carmina Burana as a Christmas-time concert was a coup, as the hall was well-filled with families and children, toting camera handphones and all ready for some seasonal cheer. The 170-strong Joy Chorale (Chorus Director: Khor Ai Ming), including 85 children's voices, was colourfully attired and in good voice. Accompanied by the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adrian Tan, this was a visual and aural spectacular as much as those Mahlerian concerts that have come before.
The gauntlet was thrown in the first timpani thwack and the opening chorus O Fortuna, sung with much guts and gusto. The wheel of fortune, waxing and waning like the moon, had spun and Fate dealt its first hands. One might not expect the same polish as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Chorus' previous performances, but the raw energy exuded was equally palpable.
The larger congregation of women singers were in their element throughout, easily the best section of the choir. Men's voices are always in short supply, but they excelled in In Taberna Quando Sumus with its repeated “bibit” toasts. In Si Puer Cum Puellula (If A Boy With A Girl), what was needed were several shots of choral Viagra. The children barely kept their tune in Amor Volat Undique (Love Flies Everywhere), but looking cute and innocent was all that mattered.
Of the soloists, baritone Alvin Tan was a confident and bellowing Abbot of Cockaigne, of hearty voice even if his pronunciation was not always perfect. Opposite him, soprano Xi Wang maintained a virginal presence, comfortably conquering the high notes even in the climactic Dulcissime, with the most joyous loss of maidenhood in all music.
The cameo role afforded to tenor Melvin Tan as the roasted swan on a spit was well characterised. His agonised voice and demeanour, and attired in tribute to Björk's ludicrous swan costume, were alone worth the price of entry. There was even a terpsichorean role which dancer Rachel Lum obliged with no little grace.
Full lyrics and translations were provided both on screen and in the programme booklet, a luxury given the prohibitive copyright costs involved. Kelly Tang's orchestral showpiece Apocalypso in a virtuosic performance served as a excellent prelude, and Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You as encore provided a suitably festive send-off.