say of a work such as Carmina Burana that a particular
recording is the very best ever made is something of a presumption,
considering there are hundreds of recordings, and surely reasonable,
knowledgeable, discriminating persons would diverge in their preference.
In my more rational moments, I have been known to admit there
are many good CBs, Ormandy, Previn, Shaw, for instance.
But, sorry, I guess right now Iím not being very rational and
there is only one best of the best: Eugen Jochum 1953 on monophonic
I am prejudiced since I discovered this recording at the same
time I discovered hi-fi, in my early years of college when so
many vast intellectual horizons were opening up for me, great
music being just one of them. But since then I have noticed there
is a magic to first recordings. Nobodyís done it before. Nobodyís
told anybody how it should be done, so everything has to be worked
out and everybodyís a little scared that it might not come off.
Everybody knows they could have done many things, but chose to
do just this, just exactly this.
was hardly a first performance however, and the composer
was on hand. Certainly he must have been excited to know his music
was going to be preserved and the performers must have been especially
proud that he approved of their efforts. But there can hardly
have been any real bewilderment as to how the music should be
played, just some in how it should be recorded.
reviewing some great monophonic choral recordings one notices
that the most successful have a certain imprecision in the chorus.
You donít want a chorus so perfectly together that they sound
like one person. You want just enough diversification of the voices
so it sounds, over a single channel, like a group of people singing.
The Scherchen Bach Mass in b minor from 1952 is especially
successful in this way. Whether this was intentional or not, the
chorus sounds like a group of people who have something very important
they want to tell you, and later multi-channel recordings, however
excellent their ambiance and precision, may or may not have this
quality. With this group of Carminers, you can very well imagine
yourself going out to a tavern to get drunk and have a lot of
fun, all the more because youíre scared to death at what might
to happen tomorrow.
strict critics will tell me, Iím excusing lapses in ensemble in
the chorus. What will I say about how the soprano can barely stretch
to the high notes? Will I find something good to say about that
too? Well, it isnít as bad as that, and she does sing extremely
well, with a certain innocence required by the part. Did Orff
even intend her to hit the high notes? He was there. He could
have thrown a tantrum and demanded they find someone else. Some
later sopranos who have no trouble with the high notes sound too
old, too professional for the text. Maybe Orff wrote the high
notes on purpose so they werenít hittable?
was for many years the crowning glory of this recording was the
Olim lacus colueram, the song of the roasted swan. My Jewish
friends angrily called it the song of the roasted Jew. At the
first performance of Carmina Burana at Hollywood Bowl (conducted
by Stokowski) some members of the audience got up in a body and
very noisily walked out. Those of us in the cheap seats didnít
hear much for a while. But most of the audience stayed. If anything
should rise above the horrors and hatreds of World War II music
should do it. Stokowski thought that, and I thought that. Carmina
Burana and I were both born in 1937, and I am as willing to
admit that the music is as innocent of genocide as I am innocent
in the firebombing of Dresden. Anyway, almost everybody stayed
at Hollywood Bowl and the performance continued. But I wondered
if any of this was the reason that Olim lacus colueram
was for many years by other artists performed way out of characteródeliberately
out of character? Simply sung off like a college glee? Thatís
all past now, too, and the melodramatic mock tragedy in this song
is now generally hammed up for all itís worth by famous tenors
and countertenors. But this first time through is still the best
other crowning glory of this recording comes when the musical
circle comes full around and we begin the repeat of the opening
section with the shattering crash of full orchestra including
the tamtam. Very skilled and brilliant orchestras have played
this music, some of them much louder, but nobody, including Jochum
in his stereo remake, has ever captured the terror of this moment
so effectively. I think this may be a second where everybody in
the hall remembered that, a mere 8 years before, they were all
terrified, and truly wondered if there would be a tomorrow, if
the next crash would be the last sound they would ever hear, if
the circle would ever turn around again for them. Whatever the
magic, it was of that moment, and we have never heard it again.
But you can hear it now any time you want to.
recording has never been out of print, and Iíve worn out two LP
copies of it. This is at least its second restoration to CD, and,
if youíre asking, it sounds better than the first time around.
The mid range is cleaner, the bass is fuller (note the clear distinction
throughout between timpani and bass drum), and the highs are there,
too, clean but not clattery. Thereís no artificial reverb or brightening
like some of the DG restorations from the mono have. And the price,
just about exactly what the first LP pressings cost 50 years ago,
is, in terms of todayís currency value, utterly trivial by comparison.
1953 this was a best seller, and Jochum eventually got around
to recording the other two numbers in Trionfi to make a
complete recording, and that is what we have here, complete for
the first time on CD. The magic wasnít quite there for parts 2
and 3, and I would be the last to speculate why. Really, the music
isnít quite as good, or at least quite as important, and
maybe thatís all there is to it. Other recordings by Smetacek
and Kegel, all in stereo no less, are about as good in these later
parts, but theyíre more expensive.*
you ever hear of my having suddenly and permanently been removed
to a desert island, donít come round my house looking to find
this recording. It wonít be there.
does exist a recording of the prelusio only from Catulli
Carmina which sweeps away all competition, but that will make
a good story for another time.
also review by Rob