Who would have thought that Carmina Burana would have
become the public success that it has become? Is it the simplicity
of the language, the fact that it makes an easy impact, that
it’s modern music for the man in the street, or is it
simply the splendid gaudiness of it all? I think that it’s
a bit of all of them.
I don’t think that I’ve heard the complete work
for some twenty five years so I welcomed this chance to re-acquaint
myself with the piece. It’s still very entertaining, contrasting
big choruses - the famous O Fortuna, which opens and
closes the work - with the delightful dance number for female
voices Chramer, gip die varwe mir (Merchant, give me
the colour to redden my cheeks), the magnificently bibulous
scene In the Tavern with the beauty of The Court of
Love. It must be said that it’s a very clever concoction,
but clever is the word. No matter how I look at the piece I
find little of substance but lots of very attractive and engaging
Carmina Burana has reached a very wide audience so whatever
I think of the qualities of the work are of no consequence.
This recording was made under the supervision of the composer
himself, so we must assume that this is how Orff wanted the
work to be heard. It is certainly a very fine performance, soloists,
chorus and orchestra are all attentive to the music, and Sawallisch’s
direction is tight and to the point. However, overall, the performance
lacks impetus, it’s far too earthy and it is too short
on unbridled excitement. But you’ll want this because
it has the blessing of the composer. The sound is boxy and the
lack of reverberation, and feel of the hall in which it was
recorded, make the sound somewhat bland. Despite all this, if
you’re a fan, it should be on your shelf.
If you’re after sonic thrills in this work - and it’s
full of them - I have always loved Frühbeck de Burgos’s
fabulously free-wheeling version on EMI Classics (with Lucia
Popp, Gerhard Unger, John Noble, and Raymond Wolansky, with
the Wandsworth School Boys’ Choir and the New Philharmonia
Chorus and Orchestra - only currently available as a download).
This is one of EMI’s very best recordings of anything,
and it’s a great, unbuttoned, performance. But it must
be said that this Sawallisch recording will give lots of pleasure.