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Carl ORFF (1895 - 1982)
Carmina Burana (chamber version) (1937) [61.17]
Allmänna Sången (Uppsala University Choir)
Children’s Choir from the Uppsala Choir School
Lena Nordin, soprano; Hans Dornbusch, tenor; Peter Mattei, baritone
Roland Pöntinen and Love Derwinger, pianos. "Kroumata" percussion group
Ceclia Rydinger Alin, conductor
Notes in English, Deutsch, & Français. No texts. Bios and photos of the artists.
Recorded at Uppsala University Hall, Sweden, 11 June 1995
BIS - CD - 300734 [61.17]

 

Comparison Recording:
Eugen Jochum (1953), Elfride Trsötchel, Hans Braun, Paul Kuen, Karl Hoppe,
Bavarian Radio Choruses and Orchestra mono [ADD] DGG 445 078-2
Trionfi (Complete) Eugen Jochum (1953,...) mono [ADD] DGG Originals 474 131-2

Here is another of those reissue recordings which arrives with rave reviews, in this case in two languages, printed all over the outside of the case leaving the poor reviewer with the choice either to join in the cheering along with everybody else, or to be disagreeable. I will attempt to travel a middle path here.

Yes, this is a very good Carmina Burana. Previously I have commented that piano reductions of orchestral works can be illuminating because of what the arranger chooses to leave out, but here nothing is left out. It’s just that where you are used to hearing strings or brass, you hear pianos playing the same notes. All of the choruses, soloists, and percussion is here, and one quickly comes to realise that that is the core of this music, and the presence of strings and brass is not so important.

The printed notes are somewhat sparse, and the question I have is when and why was this arrangement written? After consulting both the New Grove and the Even Newer Grove, I am no wiser, therefore I will speculate that after Orff composed what were to become the second and third parts of Trionfi (Catulli Carmina and Trionfo di Aphrodite) both of which call for accompaniment of pianos and percussion, he produced (or caused to be produced) this version so that the whole work could be performed by the same players, and would not require a huge symphony orchestra to play for only the first third, collect their salary and go home, missing parts two and three. His other option was to re-score the second and third parts for full orchestra, and that would have only increased costs and made performance less likely. This would suggest that the reduction was done much after the original composition in 1937, but at that I have run out of ideas.

Very well, except that every complete recording of Trionfi I am aware of (Three are currently in circulation) uses full orchestra for Carmina Burana, and the called-for smaller accompaniment for Catulli Carmina and Trionfo di Aphrodite. True, this arrangement of Carmina Burana for reduced forces allows performance by college groups, as here, who otherwise couldn’t afford to sing the work. I remember when our local Civic Chorale performed the Brahms Deutsche Requiem in 1985 it was done with a reduced instrumental ensemble accompaniment of no more than half a dozen players, and sounded very effective. Hiring a full orchestra would have been out of the question, but a single piano accompaniment would have been grotesque in concert.

Well and good. So, allowing the reduced forces, is this the best Carmina Burana ever done? No, because most of the players try too hard and overplay their parts, with the exception of the children who sound a little scared. The first sign of trouble comes when you look in the booklet at the photographs of the solo performers. Their egos leap off the page at you with the same vehemence that the music leaps off the disk. Perhaps it is impossible for the chorus to be too lively, but both Abbas Cucaniensis and the roasted swan are somewhat over done. One especially misses the sarcasm and irony that some singers bring to the latter. Perhaps this is the most energetic performance ever recorded—all the more so because one is so much closer to the singers without all those string and brass players in the way—but it is not the most dramatic.

A curious note in the booklet asks us to excuse the lack of a printed text by explaining that, even though the texts Orff used are all in the public domain, his use of them as texts for his music makes him the original author for copyright purposes, and the publisher requires payment of a royalty equal to 30% of the selling price of the CD for reprinting the text! The record producer says he’d rather pay that money to the artists. And, after all, don’t all of us have a Carmina Burana text somewhere in our record or concert program collections? This situation may explain why so many German song recordings have such awful translations of the poems in the booklets; rather than pay the royalties, the producer has a secretary or one of his children in school do the translation.

My vote for the overall best Carmina Burana is still for the first recording ever done, dated mono sound and all, with Eugen Jochum (1953). It also comes without a text, and saves even more money by omitting proof-reading of the printed track listing, but it only takes a minute to figure out where you actually are on the disk. The recent complete DG issue of this recording of Trionfi gets the track numbers right, but also has no text. If you want a new roof rattling hi-fi version with full orchestra, wait for a DVD-Audio or SACD version of which we should have a dozen or so shortly.

Paul Shoemaker

 



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