> Carmina Burana [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Carmina Burana

Bache, bene venies
Axe Phebus aureo
Clauso Cronos
Katerine collaudemus
Fas et nefas
Tempus transit gelidum
Ich was ein Chint so wolgetan
Ecce torpet probitas
Exiit diluculo
Vite perdite
Procurans odium
Celum, non animum
Tempus est iocundum

Ensemble Unicorn directed by Michael Posch
Ensemble Oni Wytars directed by Marco Ambrosini
Recorded Karthause Mauerbach May 1997
NAXOS 8.554837 [59.08]

Carmina Burana exists in the form of a late thirteenth century Bavarian manuscript. Written in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and mostly in Latin, with a few High German and Old French interpolations, few of the poems have musical notation and those that do require the use and evaluation of other source material to make sense of them. This forces the matter onto the performers themselves; to what extent should projection of the text be paramount; what is the nature of the subsidiary musical accompaniment; how rich or spare should be the musical patina; is flourishing and grandiloquent accompaniment permissible in the light of our increasing knowledge and current performing practice; does the music sound right at the given tempo and with the accompaniment provided. There are doubtless many more questions that can be legitimately asked of a performance of Carmina Burana but the principal ones the primacy of the works and the appropriateness of tempo and musical forces are surely the most pressing given the vast amount of unknown and unknowable information now lost to us.

A significant amount of reconstruction goes on in every performance of Carmina Burana Philip Pickett demonstrated this on his recent disc and many others have as well and so do the ensembles that so joyously begin their recital on this Naxos disc with the imperishable invocation of Bache, bene venies. This is raucous and triumphant, the singers supported by recorder, fiddles, hurdy-gurdy, bagpipe, tambourine and Landsknechtstrommel (no, Im not sure either and the notes dont tell me). The decision-making processes can be appreciated in the next song, the withdrawn Axe Phebus aureo where the mysterious opening leads to increasing declamation and a gradual return to more sparse support, the curve and meaning of the text properly supported by the musical material. Clauso Cronos is a jovial instrumental that frames Katerine collaudemus, an intense spare and beautiful reading with two voices chanting separately or entwined, overlapping at phrasal endings or remaining detached from the other, succeeds in illuminating, reflecting and amplifying the text to a remarkable degree. The unison Clause lumen (But light is not shut out) in the fifth verse is a particular example of the sensitivity with which this Carmina divina is set. The other three groups of Carmina are moralia (moral or satirical), veris et amoris (songs of spring and love songs) and Carmina lusorum et potatorum (songs about drinking and gambling).

Tempus transit gelidum another instrumental is appropriately reconstructed; the astringent ice melts are reflected by the chilly fiddles and the gains in amplitude are soon blossoming under the hurdy gurdy and drum as the spring bursts providentially into life. The complexities of the High German Ich was ein chint so wolgetan a quite explicit lament of betrayal and rape is reconstructed to reflect the isolation of the girl and the rapacious gusto of the crowd. The serious tread of Ecce torpet probitas (Look, honesty sleeps), a Carmina moralia that fuses a sense of inevitability with a simplicity of declamation all the more powerful for it. The drum beats at a slow tempo and the tolling bells intone their own timeless reflections on greed and the wilful abjuring of truth. The Spartan lines of Vite perdite (Of an abandoned life) reflect the interiority of the poems drama of penitential reflection.

The sonorities, both instrumental and vocal, are wedded to the sinew of the text in generally expressive and intelligent ways. Colour exists in profusion but related to the drama of the poetry and not incautiously or needlessly imposed from without. Decisions have been made with care and musical understanding. Much of the scoring is spare and restrained; some is appropriately more raucous. Enjoyable and touching in equal measure.

Jonathan Woolf


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