I was writing about Orff's Trionfi only last
summer (2002) when reviewing the Kegel-conducted Berlin Classics set.
That was in strong 1970s vintage analogue stereo. The present twofer
reanimates analogue tapes from the dawn of the LP era.
This makes the third intégrale
on the scene. In addition to the Kegel there is the 1960s Václav Smetáček
analogue box from Supraphon (which one of these days I hope to hear).
The closest the 'majors' have come to setting down
the triptych is Frans Welser-Möst's project which laudably coupled
Catulli and Trionfo on a single disc (EMI 5555172 Dagmar
Schellenberger, Lothar Ordinius, Mozart-Chor-Linz, Munchner Rundfunkorchestra).
EMI went to Munich to make these recordings with that lovely city's
radio orchestra. He also set down a separate disc of Carmina Burana
(EMI 7540542 Barbara Hendricks, Michael Chance, Jeffrey Black, LPO).
The two discs can be had together on CDS5 55519-2. Again I have not
heard these versions but I know they are highly thought of. Ormandy
recorded Carmina Burana and Catulli Carmina. Each is still
available on Sony Essential Classics. I have read high praise for the
The present DG set is adroitly designed with the two
discs housed in a French-style fold out three-way card housing. It is
designed so that the discs, on stems, are held in the outer flaps of
the spread card triptych. The booklet slips into a flap in the centre
section. The internal panels are decorated with photos of the original
sessions and facsimiles of the DGG library record cards; all highly
atmospheric. Even the CDs on the 'label side' are designed to look like
original DGG (before the company lost its 'Gesellschaft' second 'G')
LPs. It is a pity that these 'labels' claim stereo when the box quite
properly admits that these are mono. The only other missed 'trick' is
the absence of reproductions of the original LP covers. Perhaps good
copies had not survived.
The booklet is in English, German and French. The notes
which are packed with interest (which I have 'unpacked' in this review)
are by Richard Osborne. The 'plots' of the three tableaux are given
in synopsis. A complete libretto and translation are not supplied; just
as with the Kegel set.
There is no escaping that the grip of this music is
dependent on iterative cells, a delicious choral pecking precision,
percussive graces, melodious effects and spatial address. Crediting
Orff with prescience this could almost have been written for stereo
listening, for antiphonal vigour and the undistorted thrash of a great
orchestra and chorus caught in vertiginous flight. Against the competition
a mono recording from almost half a century ago might well be outfaced
by the competition. Up to a point this turns out to be the case. The
impact of the sound carries the hint of spalling. Set against this the
nostalgia and historical éclat of these German recordings. The
choir is pretty unanimous, mustering enough hoarse Saxon aggression
to remind us how crucial the LPs were in their time. The Bavarian choir
seems fairly slimline without the walloping power of massed voices.
In Carmina, in tracks such as Chramer, gip die varwer mir
(tr.8 CD1) you can almost pick out individual voices. The orchestral
brass has a bruised precise blurting tone in Reie and Were
diu werlt alle min (trs. 9, 12). Jochum and his collaborators produce
the potent suggestion of murderous medieval darkness in taberno quando
summus. Elfride Trötschel makes a pointed Hispanic voluptuous
delicacy of Stetit puella (tr. 19) yet can bring virginal shades
into her voice for the hedonistic In trutina (tr. 23) and the
Queen of the Night stratospherics of Dulcissime. There
she rivals Rita Streich. How O Fortuna must have resonated with
German audiences in 1952 with the end of the war only seven years previously!
After the original come the sequels. The first is Catulli
Carmina. This is sung with unrelenting conviction and the sound
is good though subject to that same crumbling distortion when the pressure
is on and not necessarily when the music is at its loudest. Some sections
sound like Bax's Mater Ora Filium and parts suffer when the choir's
sopranos rise high above the stave. Two further examples can be heard
in track 3 at 3.42 on Kupper's singing of 'dormi ancora' and in the
massed voices at 5.26. The Concerto Scenico - Trionfo di Afrodite
despite being the most recent recording, suffers the most diffuse
sound image and also betrays engineers just a little too ready to advance
and retard the recording levels. The twiddling effect is pretty vivid
but synthetic and ironed out in the manner of the automatic recording
level controls you used to get on old cassette recorders. The balance
favours the voices, leaving some parts of the instrumental contribution
enfeebled. Bassy emphasis is so exaggerated in the Cortio nuziale
(tr. 7 CD2) as to blunt the treble end of the spectrum. Sposa
e sposo reminds us of the Hispanic melisma of Elfride Trötschel
in Carmina but this time in the voice of Annelies Kupper who
is also the coloratura soprano in Jochum's Catulli. Her ardent
stratospheric ululation in the Canto dei novelli sposi dal talamo
rises to an unmistakable climax at 1.41 in tr. 11 (CD2). It comes
as small surprise that Trionfo was premiered in Milan with Karajan
conducting and with Schwarzkopf and Gedda as the bridal pair. The thunderous
final Apparizione carries Waltonian gestures - one wonder whether
Orff attended the premiere of Walton's Troilus or had Walton
attended the semi-staged premiere of Trionfo at La Scala on 13
February 1953. With Schwarzkopf involved Walter Legge was not far away.
Unfortunately EMI (Legge's usual 'dancing partner') could not be lured
into such 'abstruse' territory. This left the way clear for Jochum and
his Bavarian forces to record the whole triptych with DGG reeling from
a war that was still within a defeated decade's memory. The monumental
battering of choir and orchestra recalls the gigantism of the Symphony
of Psalms and even more so of Oedipus Rex though perhaps
Orff had in mind the grandiose concrete flamboyance of Speer's imperial
Germania - a new Rome to dwarf any previous 'world' capital. Like Catulli
Carmina, Trionfo uses words by Catullus. To this source Orff
adds various Sapphic poems and a fragment by Euripides.
Kupper (1906-1987) and Holm (1912-1988), both members
of the Bavarian State Opera, are common to this Catulli and Trionfo.
They were Orff and Jochum favourites. Orff, I am reminded, was a Bavarian
so these recordings speak of his homeland as well. Richard Osborne reminds
us that the two singers also sang in various Britten productions. Holm
taking the role of Achenbach in the greying twilight of his career.
There is a special archival case for this handsomely
and intelligently prepared set. This overrides the sporadic crumbly
distortion when Jochum's forces and Orff's writing drive the microphones
too hard as in the ricocheting Stravinskian martellato of Invocazione