If ever a concert could be described as a firework, this was it. The stage was ignited with music and we waited for the best bit - that crucial, beautiful explosion of colour. As part of the Colston Hall’s International Classical Season, The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra performed the iconic choral work Carmina Burana by Carl Orff (1895-1982). Joining them on stage were the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus. Known chiefly now in Britain as the opening music for the TV programme 'The X Factor', Carmina Burana is full of impact and oomph especially when it is heard live. One entered the hall to be faced with a huge set up including two pianos and several enormous, strategically placed percussion instruments.

Patrizia Ciofi as Marie with the Royal Opera Chorus © ROH 2012/Bill Cooper
Patrizia Ciofi as Marie with the Royal Opera Chorus
© ROH 2012/Bill Cooper

The Roman Carnival was a fantastic piece to open with as it was lively but not overwhelming. The cor anglais soloist played a rich melody forming the thematic foundations for the rest of the piece. This concert overture is essentially a recycled version of Berlioz’s first opera Benvenuto Cellini which had received a bad public reception. His decision to rewrite it resulted in this concert overture, full of suspense and fast passages. One of the highlights of watching the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra perform the Roman Carnival, was to watch the percussion section waiting in anticipation for the more lively carnival parts of the piece. In particular, the cymbalist was great to watch because one could see the natural excitement of the music come alive in his eyes just before his big crashes.

Elgar’s Cockaigne can be best described not as a concert overture (although it is), but as an earlier English version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Though the work follows no storyline, it is written in the style of a symphonic poem and different themes in the music evoke different aspects of London life in 1900. There are carefully interwoven melodies representing everything from festive processions, to the tranquility of the parks, to London street traders. Like Berlioz’ Roman Carnival, this piece also reaches its climax at the end of the work in what is perfectly described in the programme as a ‘blazing splendor’. There were some brilliant moments in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s performance that captured the essence of the busy streets in racing string passages underlaid with a bold brass section.

The climax of the night was Orff’s Carmina Burana for which the conductor, Owain Arwell Hughes CBE, had the task of guiding four choirs, a symphony orchestra and three solo singers. The highlight of this performance was undoubtedly O Fortuna sung by the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus with such conviction that it felt like the roof of the Colston Hall would lift off with the force of their voices. The satirical text of Carmina Burana is a curious compilation created by Orff from a thirteenth-century collection of secular songs. The three soloists at the front each had their moments to shine. It was worth the wait to hear soprano, Ailish Tynan's beautiful rendition of Setit Puella (A Girl Stood) while baritone Jaques Imbrailo showed immense power in his solo Ego Sum Abbas (I am the Abbott). A very dramatic work, Carmina Burana benefits from such a strong presence as Imbrailo offered. Tenor Mark Milhofer sang a witty Cignus Ustus Cantat (The Roast Swan) where a swan sings about how he has ended up about to be served on a table.

Overall, a great show that certainly gave Carmina Burana the fiery passion it deserved - an immense evening on a seriously large scale.