Carl ORFF (1895 - 1982)
Carmina Burana (1935/1936) [57:11]
Agnes Giebel (soprano), Paul Kuén (tenor), Marcel Cordes (baritone)
Chorus of West German Radio/Bernhard Zimmermann
Orchestra of Cologne Radio/Wolfgang Sawallisch
rec. 1956
reissue of Columbia 33CX1480
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 pieces.
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.
Bob Briggs

Will give lots of pleasure.