Carl ORFF (1895 – 1982)
Carmina burana (1937)
Sheila Armstrong (soprano), Gerald English (tenor), Thomas Allen (baritone)
St Clement Danes Grammar School Boys’ Choir, London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn
rec. 25–27 November 1974, Kingsway Hall, London
Sung texts with translations can be found on the CD in PDF form.
EMI CLASSICS 50999 6 31802 2 0 [62:45]

I remember that there was quite a stir when this recording arrived more than 35 years ago. In those days my LP collection was still fairly modest and I generally fought shy of acquiring multiple versions of larger works. I had first bought the Herbert Kegel recording on a Heliodor budget LP almost a decade earlier. Incidentally it came my way for review a couple of years ago and I was surprised that it had stood the test of time fairly well. But my standard version soon became Eugen Jochum on DG, recorded under the supervision of the composer and thus, I imagined, as close to the origins as was imaginable. When in the eighties I upgraded to CD, this was one of my earlier buys and I still regard it as the library version.

But the Previn tickled my curiosity and it was with great anticipation I opened the jewel box. I happened to listen through headphones on a portable CD player and the first tutti with the bass drum fff was riveting. I replayed it later on my permanent equipment and it made the same strong impression. Sonically this recording is still marvellous. This is not to say that the Jochum is markedly inferior. It is a bit drier, which is not unbecoming with this particular work. Chorus and orchestra are outstanding – Arthur Oldham is the chorus-master – and there is vitality and rhythmic swagger throughout the performance – attributable, not least, to Previn’s background as jazz musician. Just listen to the dance that opens Uf dem Anger (tr. 6). It’s certainly infectious. And another highlight is the swinging Veni, veni, venias (tr. 20).

The boys’ choir sing like angels and in In Taberna the male chorus is strong and virile. Among the soloists the young Thomas Allen is superb. A restrained and beautiful Omnia Sol temperat (tr. 4) and a glorious Estuans interius (tr. 11) are especially impressive. Gerald English is a pitiable swan and Sheila Armstrong sings the soprano part well, though she can’t quite challenge Gundula Janowitz on the Jochum recording. She manages the high-lying moments, in particular Dulcissime, with less effort and serene beauty.

Previn’s recording has deservedly achieved classic status. It’s fresh and youthful and in excellent sound. Jochum is also superb and he has marginally even better soloists – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is marvellous even though Allen runs him close – and the imprimatur of the composer’s presence gives it special status. I think it is right to say that Jochum is more German whereas Previn, in spite of being born in Berlin, has a more international outlook. It’s a matter of tradition versus renovation. Even though there may be many readers who are fully satisfied with just one version of this modern masterpiece, I would suggest that they try this one as a complement.

Göran Forsling

This has deservedly achieved classic status. It’s fresh and youthful and in excellent sound.