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Carl ORFF (1895-1982)
The Ultimate Collection
Orpheus – free adaptation of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (1923)
Carl Orff (speaker)
Hermann Prey (bass baritone) – Orpheus
Lucia Popp (soprano) – Eurydice
Rose Wagemann (mezzo) – Die Botin
Karl Ridderbusch (bass) – Der Wächter der Toten
Choir of Bavarian Radio
Munich Radio Orchestra/Kurt Eichhorn
Recorded Munich, 1972
ARTS ARCHIVES 43003-2 [66.07]
Carl ORFF (1895-1982)

Klage der Ariadne (1608) Lamento d’Arianna di Claudio Monteverdi, German text by Carl Orff [Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)]
Rose Wagemann (mezzo) – Ariadne
Tanz der Spröden (1608) Ballo dell’Ingrate in genere rappresentativo di Claudio Monteverdi, free German interpretation of the original text by Dorothée Günther [Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)]
Rose Wagemann (mezzo) - Venus
Lucia Popp (soprano) – Amor
Karl Ridderbusch (bass) – Pluto
Hanna Schwarz (mezzo) – Eine Spröde
Chor der Bayerischen Rundfunks
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Kurt Eichorn
Supervised by Carl Orff
Recorded 1974
ARTS 43004-2 [41.58]
Carl ORFF (1895-1982)

Carmina Burana (1935-36)
Ruth-Margaret Pütz (soprano)
Michael Cousins (tenor)
Barry McDaniel (baritone)
Roland Hermann (bass)
Cologne Radio Choir
Tölzer Childrens Choir
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ferdinand Leitner
Recorded by West German Radio, Cologne, 1973
ARTS 43001-2 [60.29]
Carl ORFF (1895-1982)

Catulli Carmina (1943)
Donald Grobe (tenor) – Catallus
Ruth-Margaret Pütz (soprano) - Lesbia
Trionfo di Afrodite (1950-51)
Enriqueta Tarrés (soprano) – Sposa
Donald Grobe (tenor) – Sposo
Hans Günter Nöcker (bass) – Corifeo
Brigitte Dürrler (soprano) – Corifea
Horst R Laubenthal (tenor) – Corifeo
Cologne Radio Choir
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ferdinand Leitner
Recorded Cologne, 1974
ARTS ARCHIVES 43002-2 [75.00]
Carl ORFF (1895-1982)

Prometheus (1968)
Josef Greindl - Power (Kratos)
Heinz Cramer – Hephaestus
Roland Hermann – Prometheus
Kieth Engen – Oceanus
Choir of the Oceanides – Edda Moser, Sophia van Sante, Raili Kostia
Io – Colette Lorand
Hermes –Frit Uhl
Women’s Chorus of West German Radio
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ferdinand Leitner
Recorded Cologne, 1972
ARTS 43007-2 [67.01 + 60.18]
ARTS 43050-2 [6 CDs as above, in slipcase]

These Orff discs, also available separately, have now been consolidated into an Arts Ultimate Collection boxed set. Recorded in the 1970s – between 1972 and 1974 to be precise - under the stewardship of Leitner and Eichorn, in some cases under Orff’s own authorisation, they still make a formidable claim on the collector. Each is reviewed in turn below.

Orpheus – free adaptation of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (1923)

Orff based his performing realisation of L'Orfeo on the 1607 production. It was first staged in Mannheim in 1923 and was an experiment at revivifying baroque opera through the medium of modern orchestral perspective. It was a process to which he was to return several times, lastly in 1940 (in the performing edition heard on this disc) when compression and operatic intensity were at the forefront. Orff employed two basset horns, two harps and three double strung lutes and the sonorities generated are rich and freely expressive.

That said, given the nature of the realisation, this is really a curio that will be of most interest to devotees of the development of Orff's vocal and theatrical powers. Another inducement for them is that Orff takes the part of speaker. It's sung in German and the modern instruments are rich and warm; the overlapping strings and antique colour are evocative and sensuous and the romanticised perspective gives weight to the drama.

The cast is obviously top notch. Prey is ardent, though there are times when he sounds strenuous - in the middle of the First Act in particular. Orff is especially keen to promote the winds. By means of underpinning orchestral pizzicati and wind interjections he cultivates a sprung rhythm that suits his purpose. Sample Act II's Weh, dunkles Schicksal! [Track 9] where Elysian winds coalesce with muted strings producing a painterly veil, albeit one rudely interrupted by brass rasps. Popp has less to do though she rises to the Act III duet with touching simplicity. Wagemann and Ridderbusch are both commanding. Kurt Eichhorn directs his forces with assurance and the sound has come up vividly. The libretto is in German.

Klage der Ariadne (1608) – Lamento d’Arianna di Claudio Monteverdi

After the stunning success of Carmina Burana in 1937 Orff took scissors to his past and insisted that henceforth it should be known as his Op.1. He made only one exception, allowing his own settings of Monteverdi to be performed - the Lamento dell'Arianna and Ballo dell'Ingrate. Orff augmented his orchestra with two basset-horns and three double strung lutes and it's in this manner that Orff pays some noble homage to the stile espressivo of Monteverdi. The Lament of Ariadne (Lamento dell'Arianna) is a surviving operatic fragment and was written for Mantua. It was followed a week later by the Ballo dell'Ingrate, though this was destined for a wedding feast. In this way Orff constructs the laments and Ballo in an arc from despair to light.

These 1974 recordings were conducted by Kurt Eichorn and supervised by Orff in what we can suppose are pretty much definitive performances as to his intentions with regard to the orchestral colour, the vocal stresses and the emotive temperature. The German text of Klage der Ariadne is by Orff himself and the companion work has a free realisation by his colleague at the Munich school of dancing in the 1920s, Dorothée Günther. The apportioning of the roles is well nigh perfect but even amongst the stellar quartet it's perhaps nowadays the least well remembered, Rose Wagemann, who makes the most moving impression. This is not simply because she bears the emotive burden of the Lament of Ariadne on her own. Centred and dramatic, hers is a voice that commands immediate admiration. Her voice suits Orff's frankly romanticised declamation with remarkable precision and she makes a cumulatively moving impression - allied to which the voice is beautiful. The most intense point is Träume, selige Träume where Orff's bass accents and stark romanticism conjure up the shade of Monteverdi without either pastiche or reinvention.

The auburn-hued instrumental string passage in Hört, werte Damen, part of the Tanz der Spröden, breaks up the recitative in a peculiarly impressive way. Ridderbusch sings with gravity, depth and dignity though it's the passage Wie unerträglich anzusehn, that devoutly entwined arioso, where the bass reveals his strengths in melismatic singing. Later on, in the dance, we hear the pizzicati and harp and lute sonorities that are part of Orff's rich instrumental tapestry - rich but certainly not glutinous. The chorus has its moment late in the work; the engineers recess its sound deliberately to give an impression of spatial separateness. We also hear the clear, immaculate Lucia Popp as Amor and the spinto mezzo of Hanna Schwarz.

The restoration sounds excellent; it has used that much touted 24 bit - 96 kHz system. Notes are in German, English, French and Italian - the texts are in German only. This forms part of the Orff series on Arts; the timing is short and in the context of the composer's development it may not seem an essential purchase. But it's finely done, rewarding - and moving.


Carmina Burana (1935-36)

Two admired Carmina Buranas came out at roughly the same time; this one and the Jochum. But it was the latter that prevailed in the market and Arts now revive the earlier of the two recordings, presided over by the admirable Ferdinand Leitner. Firstly Arts has done a fine job of restoration and their documentation, full notes (German/English/French) and texts (Latin/English only) are well done. As for the original recording it needs to be pointed out, not least in view of the sonic spectaculars of this work that were to come, that there are some balance weaknesses. There's a degree of spread in the sonic picture which Arts obviously hasn't been able to rectify and it does make for one or two "interesting" percussion moments. The lack of ideal clarity is certainly problematic.

The choir is able but an edge toward the flabby and whilst this is a work that courts brashness with considerable success there is a degree of acoustic brashness to its contribution; and being picky not an entirely successful blend. Barry McDaniel convinces - his showing is fine, even those Italianate lurches in Estuans interius; what happened to him? Soprano soloist Ruth-Margaret Pütz copes creditably with the strong demands though some are in truth too excessive; try Dulcissime. Michael Cousins bears some exorbitant demands and his high tenor just about sustains full body and tone, even if it does sound less than comfortable. Roland Hermann has less in the way of ungrateful writing.

Leitner encourages some sympathetic woodwind playing - flutes especially - and moulds the performance with generosity though not quite the level of electricity some may require. One can see why this ceded ground to the Jochum but it does have attractions of its own - though now strictly for the historicist; this after all was an Orff authorised recording and that gives it cachet still, if not an obvious recommendation.


Catulli Carmina (1943)

Orff explored the poetry of Catullus and Sappho in these two parts of his Trionfi, of which the first part was Carmina Burana. It was the Roman setting of Catulli Carmina that led him to delve further and a reading of Sophocles crystallised the ambition to set the poems and fragments of Sappho. The results here are overwhelmingly authoritative, not solely inasmuch as they have the composer's imprimatur, but rather because they sound so fresh and idiomatic. Though I ought to say at the outset that those, like Churchill and Shakespeare, blessed with little Greek or Latin are going to find this release something of a catastrophe - there are no texts and summaries are no substitute. We need to see how Orff adapted his musical expression to the very particular demands that these very different poetic traditions embody.

That said, and it's a big caveat, we can still admire the dramatic unity Orff evokes, the sense of interjectory and conversational ellipsis, and those moments of poignant unaccompanied recitation that add so much of a sense of intimacy to the scores, especially the Catullus. The Chants - sample Vivamus mea Lesbia - are brisk and fluent, the chorus sounding notably well drilled and we also get the chance to listen the women of the Cologne Radio Choir in their velvet soft Jucundum mea vite. The scoring is correspondingly light - solo pianos and percussion.

Trionfo di Afrodite followed in 1950-51. Full of ostinati and melismas this is scored for fuller orchestral forces and generates its effect through a kind of hypnotic oscillatory repetition. The melismas soar ever upwards (Sposa e Sposo, Part III) and the choir and soloists cope heroically with the sometimes ungrateful writing; throughout in fact the soloists and especially Leitner are tremendously involved and involving. The restoration sounds first class.


Prometheus (1968)

Prometheus is by a long measure the most recent of Orff’s works in this set and it’s equally clearly the most challenging. It sets a text, in Greek, derived from Aeschylus’s Prometheus and followed directly from Orff’s settings of Antigone and Sophocles’ Oedipus. In Prometheus however his means had become increasingly stark, with declamation, not singing, being the means of communicating the text and the supporting instrumentation being largely percussive but augmented by woodwind, ceremonial brass, harps, double-basses and pianos.

Orff’s musical focus is here rhythmic, with expressive outbursts emerging from declaimed text with abrasive force. The solo narrative, augmented by choral stretches, is indeed sometimes unaccompanied, or else garnished - if that’s the right word - by a battery of percussive interjectory colour. Those who have heard reconstructions of music for the Greek theatre will perhaps recognise in Orff’s setting a kind of heightened, almost phantasmagoric extrapolation of the stasis and paragraphal percussive points that animated their theatre.

All this is remarkable but pretty heavy weather. There are certainly unceasing moments of textual illumination, though you’ll have a hard job following the text as it’s solely in English and there are only a few edit points to guide one. One such is the early and visceral moment when Prometheus is "smitten with hammer" as he’s chained to the rock, a moment accompanied with the requisite amount of hammering. The macabre laugh of Power is well characterised – all the singers cope magnificently with their essentially spoken or declaimed parts – and the weird occasional melismas, falsetto ascents (disc 1, track 4 – Scene IV) and snarls that stud the text act as dramatic high points.

Roland Hermann deserves all praise for his fantastic control in the central role and in Scene VI we meet in concentrated form the powerfully stratospheric Colette Lorand. There’s luxury casting down the list and a conductor only too well versed in Orff lore. This two-disc set is a very tough nut; it’s a product of textual analysis of the most austere kind and all musical devices are subservient to textual meaning. There are no lush orchestral string choirs – forget the ebullience and freedoms of the pre-War Orff. Much of it, to unsympathetic auditors, will seem penitentially awful. But it remains an important work in Orff’s oeuvre and a necessary component of this vibrant and still recommendable boxed set.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 

 



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