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BWW Reviews: Phoenix Symphony Maestro Tito Muñoz Seals His Triumphal Debut with Breathtaking CARMINA BURANA

On the occasion of his debut as Phoenix Symphony's new Music Director, Tito Muñoz regaled his audience with a rich and robust performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Among the coterie of young conductors seizing the baton of major metropolitan orchestras, Muñoz will certainly be among the luminaries.

The complete title of Orff's scenic cantata, composed in the mid-'30's and based on 24 Medieval poems about springtime, the life of the tavern, and the joys of love and lust is Carmina Burana: Cantiones profanæ cantoribus et choris cantandæ comitantibus instrumentis atque imaginibus magicis. In English: "Songs of Beuern: Secular songs for singers and choruses to be sung together with instruments and magic images."

The name says it all ~ a musical travelogue of humanity's pleasures, follies, and excesses intoned with cascading ranges of color and texture. And Muñoz and the orchestra pitched the score with gusto!

What better way to introduce the Carmina than to precede it with Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, evoking the contrasts between the magical and monstrous domain of King Kastchei and the bucolic world of Prince Ivan. Orff's orchestration is akin to Stravinsky's. From the menacing mood of the opening movement to the Firebirds appearance and then to the finale, bassoons, horns, violins, and percussion conspire to give a hint of what comes next in Orff's grand opus.

The orchestra was indeed merely warming up, for with the first notes of Carmina's first movement, Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi (Fortune, Empress of the World), the mood in the hall was transformed.

If the new maestro in town aims to demonstrate his artistic mettle, he might smartly pull out all the stops and do the Carmina, for it is scored for a large orchestra joined by two choruses and three soloists.

The orchestra was altogether brilliant ~ a grand fusion of harp, strings, horns, and percussion. Bruce Pulk was masterful on tympani; Viviana Cumplido Wilson's flute and Erik Ludwig's contrabassoon were rich and mellifluous.

The Phoenix Symphony Chorus was outstanding ~ robust and riveting. The Phoenix Boys Choir demonstrated the poise and quality of voice that has become its signature under the direction of Georg Stangelberger.

Mary MacKenzie, Christopher Pfund, and Corey McKern handled the challenging arias, but it was Pfund who stole the show in an anguished entrance and comedic dialogue with the Chorus as the roasting swan in Olim lacus colueram.

Maestro Muñoz has set the standard against which he and the orchestra will henceforth be measured!

Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni

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