Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Carl ORFF (1895-1982)
Trionfi - Trittico teatrale:-

1. Carmina Burana - cantiones profanae (1935-36) [55.39]
2. Catulli Carmina - ludi scaenici (1943) [36.03]
3. Trionfo de Afrodite - concerto scenico (1952) [40.35]
Carmina Burana

Elfride Trötschel (sop)
Paul Kuen (ten)
Hans Braun (bar)
Catulli Carmina

Annelies Kupper (sop)
Richard Holm (ten)
Trionfo di Afrodite

Annelies Kupper (sop)
Elisabeth Lindermeier (sop)
Elisabeth Wiese-Lange (sop)
Richard Holm (ten)
Ratko Delorko (ten)
Kurt Böhme (bass)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Josef Kugler
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Eugen Jochum
rec. München, Amerikahaus, Theatersaal, Oct 1952 (Carmina); München Herkulesaal June 1954, Nov 1955 (Catulli); July 1955 (Trionfo). ADD MONO
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 474 131-2 [55.39+76.38]


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I was writing about Orff's Trionfi only last summer (2002) when reviewing the Kegel-conducted Berlin Classics set. That was in strong 1970s vintage analogue stereo. The present twofer reanimates analogue tapes from the dawn of the LP era.

This makes the third intégrale on the scene. In addition to the Kegel there is the 1960s Václav Smetáček analogue box from Supraphon (which one of these days I hope to hear).

The closest the 'majors' have come to setting down the triptych is Frans Welser-Möst's project which laudably coupled Catulli and Trionfo on a single disc (EMI 5555172 Dagmar Schellenberger, Lothar Ordinius, Mozart-Chor-Linz, Munchner Rundfunkorchestra). EMI went to Munich to make these recordings with that lovely city's radio orchestra. He also set down a separate disc of Carmina Burana (EMI 7540542 Barbara Hendricks, Michael Chance, Jeffrey Black, LPO). The two discs can be had together on CDS5 55519-2. Again I have not heard these versions but I know they are highly thought of. Ormandy recorded Carmina Burana and Catulli Carmina. Each is still available on Sony Essential Classics. I have read high praise for the Ormandy Catulli.

The present DG set is adroitly designed with the two discs housed in a French-style fold out three-way card housing. It is designed so that the discs, on stems, are held in the outer flaps of the spread card triptych. The booklet slips into a flap in the centre section. The internal panels are decorated with photos of the original sessions and facsimiles of the DGG library record cards; all highly atmospheric. Even the CDs on the 'label side' are designed to look like original DGG (before the company lost its 'Gesellschaft' second 'G') LPs. It is a pity that these 'labels' claim stereo when the box quite properly admits that these are mono. The only other missed 'trick' is the absence of reproductions of the original LP covers. Perhaps good copies had not survived.

The booklet is in English, German and French. The notes which are packed with interest (which I have 'unpacked' in this review) are by Richard Osborne. The 'plots' of the three tableaux are given in synopsis. A complete libretto and translation are not supplied; just as with the Kegel set.

There is no escaping that the grip of this music is dependent on iterative cells, a delicious choral pecking precision, percussive graces, melodious effects and spatial address. Crediting Orff with prescience this could almost have been written for stereo listening, for antiphonal vigour and the undistorted thrash of a great orchestra and chorus caught in vertiginous flight. Against the competition a mono recording from almost half a century ago might well be outfaced by the competition. Up to a point this turns out to be the case. The impact of the sound carries the hint of spalling. Set against this the nostalgia and historical éclat of these German recordings. The choir is pretty unanimous, mustering enough hoarse Saxon aggression to remind us how crucial the LPs were in their time. The Bavarian choir seems fairly slimline without the walloping power of massed voices. In Carmina, in tracks such as Chramer, gip die varwer mir (tr.8 CD1) you can almost pick out individual voices. The orchestral brass has a bruised precise blurting tone in Reie and Were diu werlt alle min (trs. 9, 12). Jochum and his collaborators produce the potent suggestion of murderous medieval darkness in taberno quando summus. Elfride Trötschel makes a pointed Hispanic voluptuous delicacy of Stetit puella (tr. 19) yet can bring virginal shades into her voice for the hedonistic In trutina (tr. 23) and the Queen of the Night stratospherics of Dulcissime. There she rivals Rita Streich. How O Fortuna must have resonated with German audiences in 1952 with the end of the war only seven years previously!

After the original come the sequels. The first is Catulli Carmina. This is sung with unrelenting conviction and the sound is good though subject to that same crumbling distortion when the pressure is on and not necessarily when the music is at its loudest. Some sections sound like Bax's Mater Ora Filium and parts suffer when the choir's sopranos rise high above the stave. Two further examples can be heard in track 3 at 3.42 on Kupper's singing of 'dormi ancora' and in the massed voices at 5.26. The Concerto Scenico - Trionfo di Afrodite despite being the most recent recording, suffers the most diffuse sound image and also betrays engineers just a little too ready to advance and retard the recording levels. The twiddling effect is pretty vivid but synthetic and ironed out in the manner of the automatic recording level controls you used to get on old cassette recorders. The balance favours the voices, leaving some parts of the instrumental contribution enfeebled. Bassy emphasis is so exaggerated in the Cortio nuziale (tr. 7 CD2) as to blunt the treble end of the spectrum. Sposa e sposo reminds us of the Hispanic melisma of Elfride Trötschel in Carmina but this time in the voice of Annelies Kupper who is also the coloratura soprano in Jochum's Catulli. Her ardent stratospheric ululation in the Canto dei novelli sposi dal talamo rises to an unmistakable climax at 1.41 in tr. 11 (CD2). It comes as small surprise that Trionfo was premiered in Milan with Karajan conducting and with Schwarzkopf and Gedda as the bridal pair. The thunderous final Apparizione carries Waltonian gestures - one wonder whether Orff attended the premiere of Walton's Troilus or had Walton attended the semi-staged premiere of Trionfo at La Scala on 13 February 1953. With Schwarzkopf involved Walter Legge was not far away. Unfortunately EMI (Legge's usual 'dancing partner') could not be lured into such 'abstruse' territory. This left the way clear for Jochum and his Bavarian forces to record the whole triptych with DGG reeling from a war that was still within a defeated decade's memory. The monumental battering of choir and orchestra recalls the gigantism of the Symphony of Psalms and even more so of Oedipus Rex though perhaps Orff had in mind the grandiose concrete flamboyance of Speer's imperial Germania - a new Rome to dwarf any previous 'world' capital. Like Catulli Carmina, Trionfo uses words by Catullus. To this source Orff adds various Sapphic poems and a fragment by Euripides.

Kupper (1906-1987) and Holm (1912-1988), both members of the Bavarian State Opera, are common to this Catulli and Trionfo. They were Orff and Jochum favourites. Orff, I am reminded, was a Bavarian so these recordings speak of his homeland as well. Richard Osborne reminds us that the two singers also sang in various Britten productions. Holm taking the role of Achenbach in the greying twilight of his career.

There is a special archival case for this handsomely and intelligently prepared set. This overrides the sporadic crumbly distortion when Jochum's forces and Orff's writing drive the microphones too hard as in the ricocheting Stravinskian martellato of Invocazione dell'Imeneo.

Rob Barnett

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