Carl ORFF (1895-1982)
Carmina Burana (1935) [60:00]
Kiera Duffy (soprano)
Marco Panuccio (tenor)
Daniel Schmutzhard (baritone)
MDR Sinfonieorchester/Kristjan Järvi
rec. 2-5 July 2012, Gewandhaus, Leipzig, Germany
Sung texts and English translations included
SONY CLASSICAL 88725446212 [60:00]
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 the performance.
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 point.
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 follow.
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.
An anti-climax in every sense; one for the sale bins.