In my preamble to Universal’s 24/96 download of Eugen
Jochum’s classic recording I remarked: ‘Like it
or loathe it, Carmina Burana is God’s gift to audiophiles;
with its pounding ostinati, battery of percussion and
racy lyrics it seldom fails to make an impact, either in the
concert hall or living room’ (review).
I’ve owned several fine versions, among them André
Previn/LSO and Riccardo Muti/Philharmonia (both on EMI) and
Eduardo Mata/LSO (RCA Red Seal). I was lucky enough to hear
the latter at London’s Royal Festival Hall around the
time it was recorded; it was a formative concert, where all
doubts about the piece were subsumed by the pulsing heat of
As for Kristjan Järvi, his revelatory recording of Leonard
Bernstein’s Mass was one of my picks of the year
in 2009 (review).
I was mightily impressed by his control of the disparate instrumental/vocal
forces and styles involved, not to mention the sheer passion
and commitment he injects into this problematic score. Would
he bring the same proselytizing zeal to this bawdy romp, which
easily trumps Mass in its potential for toe-curling awfulness?
Quite apart from the orchestration the three soloists need a
special kind of resilience to excel; pitch it wrong - literally
and figuratively - and that oh-so-tenuous suspension of disbelief
is apt to implode.
O Fortuna rarely fails to excite, even at this swift
pace; the choir isn’t well-served by the dry recording
though, and diction/declamation isn’t their strong point
either. Järvi’s propensity for pushing on isn’t
entirely unwelcome; that said Orff’s distinctive instrumental
sonorities are always well caught, especially in the quieter
moments of Primo vere. The small choir sounds very small
indeed, and despite a brisk start the pace slackens alarmingly.
Baritone Daniel Schmutzhard’s Omnia sol temperat
is clear and competent, if somewhat lacking in ardour; Ecce
gratum is also solid, but I really miss the effervescence
and character of Muti’s and Mata’s forces at this
Uf dem Anger makes amends with a delightfully bucolic
dance; instrumental detail is good, although the bass drum is
a little diffident compared with the best. Järvi brings
a delicious drag to the rhythms of Floret silva nobilis,
but for some reason this section fails to lift and entertain
as it should. Ditto Chramer, gip die varwe mir, although
the choirs sing reasonably well. A measured approach is just
fine in parts, but Reie sounds lugubrious here; indeed,
despite a shot of reviving adrenaline in the final section of
Part I the patient is soon back on life support. Really, this
is one of those works that has to balance a strong pulse with
compelling melodic interest if it’s to thrive; when one
fades as precipitously as it does here, the other is sure to
In taberna certainly has its highlights, although Estuans
interius isn’t one of them; Schmutzhard is curiously
uninvolved here and in Ecco sum abbas; in the former
Järvi doesn’t help by seeming too fast and too slow
all at once. It’s very odd, and not a little dispiriting.
As for Marco Panuccio’s roasted swan it’s a game
but effortful interlude, and Järvi’s rhythms just
don’t have the loose-limbed energy and bounce of the best.
The sound isn’t particularly wide-ranging or immersive
either, although I did wonder if the pit-like Gewandhaus has
something to do with this dearth of space and sparkle. That
said, the high-def sonics on the Blu-ray of Riccardo Chailly’s
Leipzig ‘Resurrection’ could hardly be more sumptuous,
so perhaps it’s an engineering issue after all (review).
Part III, Cour d’amours, is just as contrary. There’s
some ear-pricking detail here and the boys sing with pleasing,
bell-like clarity in Amor volat undique; that said, soprano
Kiera Duffy’s phrasing is surprisingly foursquare. In
Dies, nox et omnia Schmutzhard sounds overparted in some
places and unsteady in others. Rhythmically Stetit puella
and Circa mea pectora are terribly inflexible, and Duffy’s
delivery is nowhere near as pure or affecting as Barbara Hendricks
(Mata) or Arleen Augér (Muti). A reasonably buoyant Veni,
veni venias and a rather lovely In trutina from Duffy
kept me listening, although how she maintains that line at such
a challenging speed is nothing short of a miracle.
The inexorable slide continues, with an impossibly ponderous
rendition of Tempus est iocundum and a truly flaccid
Ave formosissima that lacks any sense of consummation,
musical or otherwise. O Fortuna brings this variable
- and rather baffling - CD to an underwhelming close. Indeed,
Järvi’s Carmina Burana is even more disappointing
than Richard Hickox’s (review)
and it doesn’t begin to rival the classic versions listed
above. Quite why Sony chose to enter such a crowded and competitive
field with this lamentable effort is a mystery. Even more perplexing
is Järvi’s lacklustre direction, unpardonable in
a work that demands an untrammelled, all-or-nothing approach
if it’s to have any hope of success.
An anti-climax in every sense; one for the sale bins.