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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Carl ORFF (1895-1982)
Carmina Burana

Bo Skovhus (baritone), Jochen Kowalski (alto), Sumi Jo (soprano)
Southend Boys' Choir
London Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra
Zubin Mehta (conductor)
Rec 1993, The Maltings, Snape
APEX 09274 13772 (60.27)

 

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In 1937, following the performance of Carmina Burana, Orff disowned all his previous compositions, though some were eventually revised and restored. He then explained the unusual background to its creation: 'Fortune smiled on me when she put into my hands a Würzburg second-hand books catalogue, in which I found a title that exercised on me an attraction of frankly magnetic force. It read 'Carmina Burana, Latin and German songs and poems of a 13th century manuscript'.'

On the front page he found the famous picture of 'Fortune with her wheel', beneath which was printed the lines: 'O fortuna, velut luna statu variabilis' ('O fortune, like the moon ever-changing'). This gave him the inspiration to start his project. What he had stumbled upon was a poetry of European stature, emanating from England, France, Spain and Italy. This had been preserved in a monastery, but it is not self-centred and confessional. Orff said, 'A special feature of the music is its static construction. In its verse structure there is no development. A musical formulation, once found, remains the same in all its repetitions, and the effect depends upon the terseness of the statement.'

Although the primary conception had been to create a work for the stage, in fact Carmina has become established into the choral repertory of the concert hall. In this regard Orff's subtitle makes an impressive point: 'Secular songs for solo singers and chorus, with instruments and magical pictures.'

This performance was recorded in 1993 at The Maltings, Snape. The music brings out the best in Mehta, whose experience at handling the drama of operatic performances brings a real sense of involvement and organisation. The recorded sound is a particularly important issue with this wide-ranging work, and this Apex reissue of Teldec's original certainly comes up trumps. The extensive percussion is spectacularly well captured, as for example in the opening climax, when the tam-tam and timpani can rarely have sounded so thrilling in a recorded performance. Indeed, the delivery of the climaxes, both in the performance and the recording, is particularly effective.

The choral forces perform well, not only the LPO Chorus but also the Southend Boys, whose contribution at 'Tempus est iocundum' is splendidly committed and energetic. Of the three soloists Sumi Jo is perhaps the best, always creating an enticing and appealing effect, which makes a telling impression in the love music, and allows the lyrical aspect of the work to make its mark. It is no wonder that the chorus in praise of her beauty, 'Ave formosissima' is sung with such richness and exaltation.

The baritone Bo Skovhus copes manfully with the cruelly wide-ranging baritone part, and Jochen Kowalski brings a special quality to his role imitating a roasting swan. However, there is much to be gained by forcing a tenor to sing this part in a falsetto voice, as was Orff's original intention.

Mehta conducts with consummate control of his massed forces. This music suits him well, though he is occasionally a little indulgent with slow tempi when he might move things along. However, that is a matter of interpretation rather than of fact, and this issue, which comes with full texts and translations, is a competitive and welcome addition to the catalogue.


Terry Barfoot


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