Carl ORFF (1895-1982) / Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567–1643)
Orpheus (1607 – 3rd performing version 1940) [60:19]
Klage der Ariadne (1608 – 2nd performing version 1940) [12:13]
Kay Stiefermann (baritone) – Orpheus
Michaela Selinger (mezzo) – Eurydike
Janina Baechle (mezzo) – Botin / Ariadne
Tareq Nazmi (baritone) – Wächter der Toten
Marcus Everding (speaker)
Orpheus Chor München
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Ulf Schirmer
rec. Andechs, Florian-Stadl, Germany, 7-10 July 2010
CPO 777 656-2 [72:31]

One of my most striking experiences in an opera house was about 30 years ago in Stuttgart listening to an Orff double bill of Die Kluge and Klage der Ariadne. I still believe the former with an idiomatic English translation could be a real hit combining many of the fingerprints of Orff the populist. In contrast the Klage der Ariadne is a stunning twelve minute scena for mezzo-soprano alone that encapsulates Orff’s enduring fascination for the work of Claudio Monteverdi. The main work offered here – Orpheus - represents his earliest foray into the creation of new ‘relevant’ performing editions of the earlier composer’s works. Here we have the paradox of this work; its historical interest today lies not in the rehabilitation of the 17th Century’s great composer but how he was perceived circa 1920. The liner makes an interesting and valuable point in that Orff was fascinated with Monteverdi because he saw in him parallels with his own creative impulse to compose a body of work that challenged pre-conceptions about acceptable performance practice and yet was also relevant and interesting to his contemporary audience. By re-working Monteverdi in the 1920s Orff sought to renew that relevance all over again. Hence the use of a modern translation, the compression of the storyline avoiding characters and scenes that divert the dramatic flow and using an instrumentation that would not be as alien-sounding to ears unfamiliar with 17th Century performance practice. From the standpoint of another eighty years in the future in an age obsessed with ‘authenticity’ this approach will strike many as being overly interventionist. But remember, although this sounds a lot of the time like Monteverdi it is Orff’s realisation of Monteverdi. My guess is the more you treasure the original the less you will enjoy this unless you are able to disassociate one from the other. Since I like Orff a lot and am shockingly ignorant of the minutiae of Monteverdi’s originals I found myself enjoying this disc greatly.

In its own right the performers here do a fine job – CPO have caught the live performances - with an audience totally silent except for the applause at the end of each work - in typically warm and detailed sound. This is a SA-CD although the fact is rather modestly hidden away on the back cover. I was not able to listen to it in that format but can attest to the quality of the standard CD version. Ulf Schirmer and his Munich Radio Orchestra play well but another paradox is thrown up; should they play in an historically informed way or not? They do but I would argue they should not. If we are being authentic to Orff rather than Monteverdi here then surely they should play in the style that Orff would have expected an orchestra to play in 1923/40 (it is worth realising that these re-workings are some of the few pieces Orff still acknowledged post 1930 returning to revise his first thoughts in 1929 then again in 1940): with a fuller tone and vibrato. I did wonder if the orchestra were fully confident about how to play this work period-wise and so occasionally they fall between stylistic stools – beautifully unconvinced is how I would characterise it. Although the catalogue is not exactly stuffed with alternative versions this new disc does run into very stiff competition from the ‘authorised Orff edition’ recording currently available of the Arts Edition label. The 1972 performance uses the same orchestra but conducted by Kurt Eichhorn. The benefits are a stellar singing cast including Lucia Popp (an Orff specialist) Hermann Prey and Karl Ridderbusch together with Orff himself in the role of the narrator in the brief spoken prologue. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that as a historical document of a historical documentation of a historic piece that is the version to opt for right down to the unidiomatically idiomatic playing of the score. But if the less than ideal technical aspect of that older version does not appeal few will be disappointed by the offering here. A big minus to CPO though – the booklet contains some interesting essays including one on the abiding fascination of the Orpheo/Eurydice myth but crucially no texts at all.

Ariadne’s Lament is an extraordinary work in whatever form you listen to it and Janina Baechle’s performance here trumps that by Rose Wagemann in the 1974 authorised edition with a performance full of searing emotion that reaches across the four hundred years or so since its composition – Monteverdi the operatic revolutionary in full cry. Worth noting too that the 1972 Orpheus comes with no coupling, there the Lament is coupled with the other lament Tanz der Spröden which Orff brought together in 1958 under the collective title Lamenti – Trittico teatrale. Away from the ubiquitous Carmina Burana Orff struggles to get any performances or recordings outside of Southern Germany and I think this is a great shame. As a composer he might not possess the widest or most diverse musical vocabularies but within this sphere his music is both memorable and moving. Pleased as I am to greet this disc my curiosity would be really tweaked if CPO were ever able to record the early Orff works he disinherited post-1937.

Nick Barnard

Music that is both memorable and moving.