One of Limelight’s recent 30 under 30s excels in ASO debut with Orff and Rach.

Festival Theatre, Adelaide

May 16, 2014

In this month's Limelight magazine, conductor Nicholas Carter has been listed amongst the “new classical superstars” quickly travelling from assistant conductor of the Sydney Symphony to resident conductor at the Hamburg State Opera with Simone Young before taking on positions with both the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and the formidable Deutsche Oper, Berlin. After conducting the Adelaide band in the recent State Opera production of La Traviata, it was time to make his debut with the orchestra in his capacity as Associate Guest Conductor with Carl Orff's monumental scenic cantata Carmina Burana. And from the oh so familiar opening chorus O Fortuna!, it was apparent that here was something special.

How many conductors would choose to give their debut with a combined body of over two hundred and fifty choristers and musicians? Yet excel is exactly what Carter did, with an almost viscerally exciting account of this highly percussive and often monophonic work. Mind you, Carter has a long personal history with it having sung in many performances of the work both as a boy treble and adult chorister.

Three choirs were involved in the project and all excelled, displaying fine incisive, rhythmic diction throughout. The male choristers were particularly fine in the chugging In taberna whilst the children's choir was equally effective later in the work in the Court of Love scene. The three vocal soloists – Milica Ilic, Paul McMahon and Samuel Dundas – were equally fine – Ilic's sweet voice was entirely appropriate for the young girl at the cross roads of Should I remain a virgin or capitulate?

Dundas brought a full throated operatic baritone to bear and yet proved by turn, intimate and reverent in Omnia sol temperat where he also presented a fine falsetto, and raunchy and uninhibited in the drinking songs of Part III. Whilst the tenor has only one song (The Ballad of the Roasting Swan), when in the right hands, it can be a vocal tour de force with its plaintive falsetto. And Paul MacMahon was truly masterly, delivering with precision and power.

Diction was nigh faultless and the conviction and excitement within these popular choruses never waned to the extent that the closing rephrase of O Fortuna! was delivered with possibly even more drive and punch. Here was a performance which truly deserved its standing ovation for such was the identification with the work that I must say that it was an experience which easily held its own with many recordings that I've heard of this joyful and stirring work.

Prior to Orff, Carter also generously led a fine descriptive performance of Rachmaninov's only tone-poem, The Isle of the Dead – after Bocklin's popular painting of the time featuring Charon ferrying the dead across the Styx. It is a darkly coloured work with the composer's melancholia as well as his compositional abilities being stirred by the striking artwork.