Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


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Carl ORFF (1895 - 1982)

Carmina Burana (1937) (55.39)
Efride Trötschel, soprano; Paul Kuen, tenor; Hans Braun, baritone
Catulli Carmina (1943) (36.00)
Annelies Kupper, soprano; Richard Holm, tenor
Trionfo di Aphrodite (1953) (40.38)
Annelies Kupper, Elisabeth Lindermeier, Elisabeth Wiese-Lange, sopranos;
Richard Holm, Ratko Delorko, tenors; Kurt Böhme, bass
Eugen Jochum conducting the
Chorus and Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio. Josef Kugler, chorus master.
Booklet in Deutsch, English, Français with photographs of Orff and Jochum
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 474 131-2 [2CDs: 132.17]

To say of a work such as Carmina Burana that a particular recording is the very best ever made is something of a presumption, considering there are hundreds of recordings, and surely reasonable, knowledgeable, discriminating persons would diverge in their preference. In my more rational moments, I have been known to admit there are many good CBs, Ormandy, Previn, Shaw, for instance. But, sorry, I guess right now Iím not being very rational and there is only one best of the best: Eugen Jochum 1953 on monophonic DGG.

Perhaps I am prejudiced since I discovered this recording at the same time I discovered hi-fi, in my early years of college when so many vast intellectual horizons were opening up for me, great music being just one of them. But since then I have noticed there is a magic to first recordings. Nobodyís done it before. Nobodyís told anybody how it should be done, so everything has to be worked out and everybodyís a little scared that it might not come off. Everybody knows they could have done many things, but chose to do just this, just exactly this.

This was hardly a first performance however, and the composer was on hand. Certainly he must have been excited to know his music was going to be preserved and the performers must have been especially proud that he approved of their efforts. But there can hardly have been any real bewilderment as to how the music should be played, just some in how it should be recorded.

In reviewing some great monophonic choral recordings one notices that the most successful have a certain imprecision in the chorus. You donít want a chorus so perfectly together that they sound like one person. You want just enough diversification of the voices so it sounds, over a single channel, like a group of people singing. The Scherchen Bach Mass in b minor from 1952 is especially successful in this way. Whether this was intentional or not, the chorus sounds like a group of people who have something very important they want to tell you, and later multi-channel recordings, however excellent their ambiance and precision, may or may not have this quality. With this group of Carminers, you can very well imagine yourself going out to a tavern to get drunk and have a lot of fun, all the more because youíre scared to death at what might to happen tomorrow.

So, strict critics will tell me, Iím excusing lapses in ensemble in the chorus. What will I say about how the soprano can barely stretch to the high notes? Will I find something good to say about that too? Well, it isnít as bad as that, and she does sing extremely well, with a certain innocence required by the part. Did Orff even intend her to hit the high notes? He was there. He could have thrown a tantrum and demanded they find someone else. Some later sopranos who have no trouble with the high notes sound too old, too professional for the text. Maybe Orff wrote the high notes on purpose so they werenít hittable?

What was for many years the crowning glory of this recording was the Olim lacus colueram, the song of the roasted swan. My Jewish friends angrily called it the song of the roasted Jew. At the first performance of Carmina Burana at Hollywood Bowl (conducted by Stokowski) some members of the audience got up in a body and very noisily walked out. Those of us in the cheap seats didnít hear much for a while. But most of the audience stayed. If anything should rise above the horrors and hatreds of World War II music should do it. Stokowski thought that, and I thought that. Carmina Burana and I were both born in 1937, and I am as willing to admit that the music is as innocent of genocide as I am innocent in the firebombing of Dresden. Anyway, almost everybody stayed at Hollywood Bowl and the performance continued. But I wondered if any of this was the reason that Olim lacus colueram was for many years by other artists performed way out of characteródeliberately out of character? Simply sung off like a college glee? Thatís all past now, too, and the melodramatic mock tragedy in this song is now generally hammed up for all itís worth by famous tenors and countertenors. But this first time through is still the best ever done.

The other crowning glory of this recording comes when the musical circle comes full around and we begin the repeat of the opening section with the shattering crash of full orchestra including the tamtam. Very skilled and brilliant orchestras have played this music, some of them much louder, but nobody, including Jochum in his stereo remake, has ever captured the terror of this moment so effectively. I think this may be a second where everybody in the hall remembered that, a mere 8 years before, they were all terrified, and truly wondered if there would be a tomorrow, if the next crash would be the last sound they would ever hear, if the circle would ever turn around again for them. Whatever the magic, it was of that moment, and we have never heard it again. But you can hear it now any time you want to.

This recording has never been out of print, and Iíve worn out two LP copies of it. This is at least its second restoration to CD, and, if youíre asking, it sounds better than the first time around. The mid range is cleaner, the bass is fuller (note the clear distinction throughout between timpani and bass drum), and the highs are there, too, clean but not clattery. Thereís no artificial reverb or brightening like some of the DG restorations from the mono have. And the price, just about exactly what the first LP pressings cost 50 years ago, is, in terms of todayís currency value, utterly trivial by comparison.

In 1953 this was a best seller, and Jochum eventually got around to recording the other two numbers in Trionfi to make a complete recording, and that is what we have here, complete for the first time on CD. The magic wasnít quite there for parts 2 and 3, and I would be the last to speculate why. Really, the music isnít quite as good, or at least quite as important, and maybe thatís all there is to it. Other recordings by Smetacek and Kegel, all in stereo no less, are about as good in these later parts, but theyíre more expensive.*

If you ever hear of my having suddenly and permanently been removed to a desert island, donít come round my house looking to find this recording. It wonít be there.

*There does exist a recording of the prelusio only from Catulli Carmina which sweeps away all competition, but that will make a good story for another time.


Paul Shoemaker

see also review by Rob Barnett

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