> Carl Orff - Gabriel Fauré - César Franck [PJL]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Carl ORFF (1895-1982)
Carmina Burana (1937) [62.35]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Pavane, Op 50 (choral version, 1887)
César FRANCK (182-1890)

Panis angelicus (1860, arr. Sandré)
Hallé Choir and Orchestra, cond. Maurice Handford, with (Orff only) Sheila Armstrong (soprano), Peter Hall (tenor), Brian Rayner Cook (baritone) and the Boys of Manchester Grammar School
ADD: recorded in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, May 1982 (Orff) and May 1980 (Fauré, Franck)
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 7243 5 75146 2 [73.36]


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This Carmina Burana was originally issued on the Classics for Pleasure label back in LP days: it makes a comeback on the same label in this digitally remastered reissue, coupled with two rather-more-civilised choral classics from a previous generation. Whether the additional material is sufficient to ensure saleability of Handford’s frustratingly middle-of-the-road performance of the Orff is the big question.

The Fauré and Franck are in fact unexceptional. They’re nicely played (the gorgeous solo flute is worth singling out) and sung but there are more refined and polished versions on the market. Unfortunately, the words are well nigh impossible to pick out: inevitably, this leads one to question the point of using the (optional!) chorus in the Fauré, or the (optional!) orchestral accompaniment in the Franck.

As for Carmina Burana, the Hallé Choir undoubtedly sing with gusto (a necessary quality in this piece) but they’re neither as frolicsome nor as debauched as this music demands. They sometimes sound tired, half-hearted and poorly disciplined: ‘Olim lacus colueram’ is raucous, tonally, and ‘In taberna quando sumus’ garbled. In many of the tuttis, they (or is it the recording?) don’t deliver enough to carry across the hubbub of the orchestra.

The soloists are, in different ways, disappointing. Sheila Armstrong’s unquestionable artistry serves ‘Amor volat undique’ and ‘Stetit puella’ well enough, but ‘Dulcissime’ is beyond her, and utterly ungainly. Similarly, Peter Hall is impossibly strained in his (admittedly demanding) role. Brian Rayner Cook’s lightweight baritone is pleasing, but his singing style is unnecessarily refined and restrained: it’s never quite big enough for this sort of piece.

Handford’s conducting seldom rises above the routine and, like the recording (which, though reasonably faithful, is hardly spectacular), is unlikely to lift you out of your seat. You may well find plenty to enjoy, but for a piece such as this – which is full of sparkle, weight and colour – I’m afraid there just isn’t enough sparkle, weight and colour.

The booklet is the usual cut-price affair, with no words included. With a Latin text, a backwardly-balanced choir and (as often as not) an untidy ensemble, there’s little hope of being able to follow the words.

You really are spoilt for choice when it comes to recordings of Carmina Burana, and any newcomer or reissue needs to be able to boast some very special qualities if it is to claim a place high up the list. With the best will in the world, this disc doesn’t nearly fulfill those requirements: it really is outclassed by the competition. At budget price, try Mata on RCA Navigator – exciting in every way, and digital!

Peter J Lawson


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