Carl ORFF (1895 1981)
Carmina Burana (1934) [64.25]
Ann Archibald (soprano); John Graham-Hall (tenor); Peter Sidhom (baritone)
Boys of the Temple Church Choir, London; The Royal Choral Society
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Richard Cooke
rec. circa 2000

Neither the packaging nor the Brilliant Classics web site give any clues as to the session details, though it seems to date from 1999/2000. It was originally issued on the Royal Philharmonic's own label. I presume the location to be the Royal Albert Hall. This latter is important as the recording has one or two slightly unsatisfactory characteristics. The orchestra is captured with extreme vividness, in fact the dynamic range of the recording is quite wide. But the chorus are nowhere near as immediate. The balance is OK, but it sounds as if the recording engineers failed to catch the choir's presence.

It is this immediacy which is really important in this work. Words were crucial to Orff and in any performance of Carmina Burana worth its salt, the choir must give them full impact. In the 1970s I sang in Carmina Burana under a pupil of Orff's and he was wont to conduct rehearsals without any pitch, just concentrating on spoken articulation, rhythm and dynamics. When performed like this, Carmina Burana comes a lot closer to some of Orff's other, less melodically attractive, works.

One of the problems of this piece is the simple gorgeousness of its music. It is fatally easy to get lost in this. Richard Cooke and his forces do not make this mistake and it is unfortunate that though the choir seems to be working hard, the recording does not capture this. They sound far too generalised and in the louder moments they are heard well behind the orchestra.

This is a shame, because there are some good things here. Conductor Richard Cooke is the Musical Director of the Royal Choral Society and very sympathetic to his performers; this is not a driven performance. Ann Archibald, on the whole, is a radiant soprano soloist only marred by a slight tendency to hardness in the upper range; she certainly encompasses the stratospheric notes easily. John Graham Hall is a very characterful tenor soloist, using his varied vocal registers to great effect. Peter Sidhom is an equally vivid baritone and like Hall uses the variety of registers with great character. I was rather taken with Sidhom's performance, he sings musically and intelligently, but ensures that the immediacy of Orff's music is not blunted.

Cooke gets a strong performance from his choir and orchestra but in a crowded market there has to be a clear reason for buying this CD and they just don't quite make it. At Brilliant's prices, you could easily buy this if you are curious or if the excellent cast appeals. But if you really want a good recording of Orff's Carmina Burana then go for Gundula Janowitz and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau conducted by Eugen Jochum.

Robert Hugill

A strong performance but in a crowded market this CD doesn't quite make it. see Full Review