> Carl Orff - Carmina Burana [CH]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Carl ORFF (1895-1982)
Carmina Burana

Hei-Kyung Hong (soprano), Stanford Olsen (tenor), Earle Patriarco (baritone)
Gwinnett Young Singers, Atlanta Symphony
Chorus and Orchestra/Donald Runnicles
Recorded 4th-5th November 2000, Symphony Hall, Woodruff Arts Centre, Atlanta, Georgia
TELARC CD-80575 [59’42"]


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When Edinburgh-born Donald Runnicles had completed his basic training and needed to get experience he found himself, as far as Great Britain was concerned, in a Catch-22 situation. How do you get experience? By starting as a repetiteur and working up gradually. Who would take him on as a repetiteur? No-one because he lacked experience. So off he went to Germany where they do things differently. Now in his late forties he has a terrific reputation in Germany and Austria as well as the United States, yet remains relatively unknown in the UK. Evidently we are not as globalised as we thought. Perhaps his forthcoming Proms performance of Gurrelieder will change things. In all truth, some one-off appearances have been disappointing – he failed to capture the sympathy of Milan’s temperamental La Scala orchestra, for example – but the glowing reports of his achievements from both sides of the Atlantic cannot all be wrong.

Carmina Burana is not by its nature a piece to show off a conductor’s subtler sides and a cynic might say the noisier it is the better. Yet Runnicles does succeed in establishing a performance with a character of its own. I was struck at first by the extreme care with which the ostinatos are enunciated, bright and alive without being thrashed, and by his very alert ear for the orchestral timbres in the quieter movements. If there is one aspect I remember above all others it is the vernal freshness of the spring sections. This is not the most euphoric performance of Carmina Burana you will have heard, but it is one whose timeless, static qualities (in spite of much incidental vivacity) are wholly in tune with Orff’s stated concerns.

Unfortunately the bright focus of the orchestra is not quite matched by the choir, which seems very slightly woolly. This is not, I think, Runnicles’ fault since the actual precision is excellent. It seems to be a mixture of the chorus-master’s preferred form of voice production and a recording which close-mikes the orchestra (was the microphone actually inside the big drum?) and lets the choir fend for itself.

The cruel high writing for the two male singers sounds no more ingratiating than it usually does – a brave stab at the near-impossible – and I would add that both singers have a fairly wide vibrato in their "normal" range, which not all will welcome. However, in the soprano Hei-Kyung Hong the disc scores a definite plus-point – one of the few who can make even Dulcissime sound effortless and actually beautiful.

On account of these small points this recording does not quite join the very top of the list – this is a much-recorded work – but it does have a definite character and leads us to hope that recordings from Runnicles will be more regular events in the future than they have in the past.

Christopher Howell

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