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Orff and Jackfert dominate orchestra’s excellent show

By By David Williams
For the Saturday Gazette-Mail

A certain candy company will know its new advertising campaign worked if every chocolate bar in a 5-mile radius of Charleston was bought by patrons of the West Virginia Symphony after the orchestra’s performance Friday night of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” at the Clay Center.

Or maybe everyone went home and watched “Excalibur” on Netflix.

Or a whole bunch of movie trailers.

The orchestra closed its season with the piece that has been ubiquitously chopped and filleted by popular culture.

Fortunately, it is greater than the snippets that have been hacked from it.

It sounded splendid in the orchestra’s vivid performance, with the combined choruses of Fairmont State University, directed by Sam Spears, West Virginia University, directed by Jeffrey Redding, and Marshall University and the West Virginia Symphony, both directed by David Castlebury, as well as the Appalachian Children’s Chorus, directed by Selena Midkiff.

Soprano Janet Brown, tenor Gerald Gray and baritone Paul Kreider acted as soloists.

Conductor Grant Cooper’s interpretation sounded muscular from the outset, with the percolating sounds of pianos and timpani injecting adrenaline into the textures of the first two pieces.

The sudden shifts between very loud music and rhythmically driving softer sections were excellent.

Kreider, the current Dean of WVU’s College of Creative Arts, sang with distinction and perfect diction in his large role, notably in the central section, “In the Tavern.”

Brown, a longtime collaborator with Cooper, sang with subtle changes of tonal color in the lighthearted solos of the final section, “The Court of Love.”

Gray, also a Cooper favorite, was quiveringly perfect in the small role of the goose that sings its lament as it roasts over the fire.

The orchestra played dazzlingly.

Solo passages were pure and expressive, while the big moments were vivid.

The only problem was a false choral entrance at the start of the seventh piece, “The Noble Forest.”

My one tiny complaint, in a concert where percussion balances were strong, was that the final timpani tones in the 10th piece, “Were the World All Mine,” just were not loud enough.

The concert opened with local composer Matthew Jackfert’s “On the Shores of Qingdao.” (Full disclosure: He was a student of mine in the West Virginia Youth Symphony and we both studied composing with John Beall.)

The striking piece moved from quiet murmurs of flutes and clarinet to Amelia Chan’s solo violin, ruminating on Chinese folk songs.

Episode after episode of swirling textures braced colorful variants of the tunes before it all faded swiftly to the flutes, clarinet, violin and one striking rumble from the trombones.

Cooper also included former conductor of the orchestra Antonio Modarelli’s “River Saga” (1949).

Modarelli’s intent was to do for the Kanawha River what Smetana had done for the Moldau. The piece had not been played since its premier performance.

Cooper and the orchestra played it with panache.

The music is inconsistent. The beginning is solid and evocative. One spot sounded as if the Kanawha River passes through the Russia of Rimsky-Korsakov.

The concert repeats this evening at 8 p.m. at the Clay Center.

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