Carl ORFF (1895-1982) Carmina Burana (1936) [56:42]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Leonore Overture No. 3 in C major, Op. 72b (1805-06) [15:29]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1750)/arrangement by Sir Eugène GOOSSENS (1893-1962) ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus from oratorio Messiah (1741) [5:13]
Sally Matthews (soprano); Lawrence Brownlee (tenor); Christian Gerhaher (baritone)
Berlin Radio Choir, Berlin State and Cathedral Boys Choirs
Berlin Philharmonic/Simon Rattle
rec. 31 December 2004, Philharmonie, Berlin
EUROARTS DVD 2053678 [89:00]

This New Year’s Eve 2004 performance of Carmina Burana under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle from the Berlin Philharmonie has been around for some time on the Sky Arts television channel. I also have the CD of Carmina Burana taken from this Gala performance on EMI Classics 5 57888 2. So it’s a concert that I am familiar with and one that I have very much enjoyed.

No problems with the high quality sound and picture quality. Generally the direction is good but I’m not sure about the several discourteous close-ups of Sally Matthews that seem intent on trying to look up her nose and inside her mouth. During viewing there are subtitles of the Latin texts available in English, although, there are no texts or translations in the accompanying booklet. However a short but informative essay by Keith Anderson is included.

Carl Orff’s scenic cantata Carmina Burana from 1936 is one of the best loved choral works with orchestra. The celebrated O Fortuna is universally known from its extensive use on television and radio. The Berlin Philharmonic website: gives a fine description of Carmina Burana as a work that Orff, “based on a collection of medieval texts dealing with happiness, intoxication, gluttony, hedonism, love and the inescapable wheel of fortune.” The booklet notes accompanying the DVD state that Carmina Burana is an unusual choice for the Berlin Philharmonic.” I’m not sure that I agree. It’s a work that the Berlin Philharmonic are no strangers to having performed it on several occasions. They made a recording of it with Seiji Ozawa back in 1988 on Philips 422 363-2.

As one would expect from this elite orchestra the playing is out of the top-drawer. The players are so well balanced that it is difficult to single out any particular section for special praise. Well prepared by chorus master Simon Halsey the choirs are enthusiastic and expressive interpreters of the texts. A highlight is the spine-tingling In trutina mentus dubia from the creamy voiced Sally Matthews. The tenor Lawrence Brownlee is in fine voice and gives a creditable if somewhat bland performance. I normally enjoy hearing Christian Gerhaher’s appealing dark timbered baritone; his tendency for R-rolling aside. Sadly the Dies, nox et omnia contains parts that are too high for Gerhaher with excruciating results. Just listen to baritone Thomas Hampson on the Ozawa/Philips version to hear how this movement can be done so beautifully. The famous O Fortuna that both starts and concludes the score is thrilling with impressively controlled power full-on.

The two short works that opened the concert and the encore are not on the EMI Classics CD. The concert began with Beethoven’s brilliant Leonore Overture No. 3 in C major to the opera Fidelio. It’s given an uplifting performance of buoyancy and vigour. At times there’s an almost swaggering quality to the proceedings.

Handel’s ‘HallelujahChorus from Messiah provides an extravagant choral finale to the concert. This excellent version came about as a result of a commission from Sir Thomas Beecham. Goossens in 1959 provided what is really a re-orchestration rather than a fresh arrangement.

To sum up: there’s an abundance of commitment and exuberance here to seal a marvellous concert.

Michael Cookson

An abundance of commitment and exuberance here to seal a marvellous concert.