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CLASSICAL  April 2008

CLASSICAL April 2008

Subject:

Mini-Carmina

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 17 Apr 2008 12:33:31 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (87 lines)

Carl Orff
Carmina Burana

Lena Nordin, soprano
Hans Dornbusch, tenor
Peter Mattei, baritone
Roland Pontinen & Love Derwinger, pianos
Kroumata Percussion Ensemble
Allmanna Sangen, Uppsala Choir School Children's Choir/Cecilia Rydinger Alin
Bis-CD-734 Total time: 61:17

Summary for the Busy Executive: Still packs a punch.

Despite the efforts of the Lovers of True Beauty to kill it off, Orff's
Carmina Burana refuses to die, either in recording or on the concert
stage.  There are dozens of recordings out there, most of which are
unsatisfactory to some degree or another.  Ormandy's account (the first
one I had ever heard and which bound me to the piece with hoops of steel)
featured my favorite baritone soloist in the work, Harve Presnell (who
later played the domineering father-in-law in the Coen brothers' Fargo),
but the ensemble work was a bit slack and the other soloists nothing
much.

For me, a great Carmina means first and foremost a great chorus. For
that reason, I love Fruehbeck de Burgos on EMI with the New Philharmonia
Chorus, trained by the legendary Wilhelm Pitz, and a pretty good quartet
of soloists: John Noble, Raymond Wolansky, Gerhard Unger, and Lucia Popp.
I can't figure out why a quartet rather than a trio, since Noble and
Wolansky both sing baritone, but it's not that worrisome to the performance.
Then there's Michael Tilson Thomas's exciting account on Sony directing
the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus (trained by Robert Page) and a great
trio, with the young Judith Blegen as the standout.  Probably the Jochum
recording with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus comes
closest to the composer's intent, but no one moment particularly grabs
you.

So, in the great scheme of things, where do the Swedes fit in?  First,
this is not the full-blown Carmina Burana, but a chamber version.  The
composer has reduced the orchestra to two pianos and percussion.  I
haven't been able to find out whether Orff composed this version first
and then expanded it or gleaned this version from the full orchestra to
encourage amateur performances or to bring it in line with the instrumentation
of the other two parts of Trionfi, Catulli Carmina and Trionfo di Afrodite.
In the mighty fortissimos, you don't, oddly enough, miss the orchestra,
but you do (or at least I did) miss the strings and the winds in the
quieter passages.  However, the connections to Stravinsky's Les Noces
become much clearer with the similar instrumentation.  In essence, Orff's
career owes almost everything to that earlier score.  This leaner version
gets you closer to chorus and soloists and fosters nuance, not always
all that apparent in Orff.

The chorus here stands out - rhythmically sharp.  Orff wrote the score
with a workers' chorus in mind.  Harmonies and rhythms aren't all that
tricky.  The real work of the chorus consists of spitting out the text.
The declamation of the text, the clear enunciation of consonants (as in
"Si puer cum puellula" or "In taberna"), become elements enhancing the
percussive qualities of the piece.  Incidentally, the text isn't provided,
due to copyright insanity, but you don't really need it.  The choir
declaims with great energy and clarity.

The soloists are a mixed bag.  All of them perform with the subtlety of
Lieder singers.  Soprano Lena Nordin has the light, lyric voice called
for by the texts, but she's often a few cents flat.  Peter Mattei,
baritone, lacks the vocal weight for the music, although he sings very
well.  The best of the three is tenor Hans Dornbusch as the roasted swan.
Unusually, he sings the cruelly high part full out and with a harsh tone,
without resorting to falsetto, which emphasizes the pain of the bird as
he rotates on the spit.  Once you hear Dornbusch, you realize what you've
missed in Nordin and Mattei - a dramatic sensibility.  All the refinement
of those two means less in this work than raw energy.

Roland Pontinen and Love Derwinger, the two pianists, play fussily,
setting forth an Interpretation, as if this were Brahms rather than Orff.
Whether they came up with these ideas on their own or whether conductor
Alin commanded them, I don't know.  Some of these things come off. 
Others remind me of William F. Buckley at a Motocross rally.

All in all, this shouldn't be your only Carmina. However, it's just
interesting and good enough to merit a place on your shelves.

Steve Schwartz

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