March 30, 2006


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Reviews by Jeff Rapsis and Irene Lambombarde

A different kind of Carmina
Review: Nash wasn’t on the podium for last weekend’s Nashua Symphony performance of Carmina Burana, which was led instead by associate conductor Richard A.A. Larraga.

The performance, in the auditorium of Nashua High School North, went far beyond the typical presentation of the familiar medieval-themed oratorio.

Rather than just sing the music, the Nashua Symphony Choral Society created a semi-staged version of the piece, with various episodes acted out in rudimentary fashion, limited choreography, and even a few props. The action took place on a simple open stage, backed only by large towering pillars that reflected a roster of shifting colored lights.

It’s quite a chance for a local classical music group to take, and for the most part the Nashua Symphony Choral Society singers pulled it off. Purists will complain that Carmina Burana loses much of its power when staging is applied to it (the dance music is idealized, and not meant to accompany actual dancing), and that’s a valid point.

And true, some of the staging was uneven, and at times the music did get lost in all the stage action. The stripped-down orchestration for two pianos and four percussionists, however, proved very effective—at full blast, the ensemble sounded a little like Danny Elfman’s score for Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and that’s not a bad thing.

Overall, the effort lent a great deal of fresh interest to this warhorse. It was actually fun to watch it unfold and see what would happen next. If more classical groups tried this kind of creative approach, audiences would certainly be more willing to get into the habit.

Speaking of which: the concert will be repeated on Saturday, April 8 at 8 p.m. at the Stockbridge Theater at Pinkerton Academy in Derry. It’s a chance to hear (and see) the performance in a much better location; among the problems of the Nashua High School North auditorium are really dead acoustics and a persistent clicking sound apparently part of the fire alarm system that cannot be silenced.

Despite the comfy seats, it’s an awful venue for concert music and the Nashua Symphony would be better off to schedule performances in the city’s public works garage than to use this space again.

The Derry concert will also give the singers a chance to brush up their command of the opening work, a group of choral settings by British composer Ralph Vaughn Williams.

Perhaps it was because they couldn’t hear each other in the dead acoustics, but last Saturday’s performance was way below this group’s usual performance level. Entrances and cut-offs were sloppy, dynamics were dull, singing was tentative, and some passages were noticeably out of tune.

In fact, the performance was so sub-standard, it came close to spoiling the mood for the startling Carmina Burana that followed. If the group can’t polish the Vaughn Williams in the next couple of weeks, they’d be better off just leaving it out of the Derry concert program.

— Jeff Rapsis

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