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Carl ORFF (1895-1982)
Carmina Burana (1936) [55.14]
Elfriede Trötschel (soprano), Paul Kuen (tenor), Hans Braun (baritone)
Bavarian Radio Chorus and Orchestra/Eugen Jochum
rec. 1953
Catulli Carmina (1943) [36.03]
Annelies Kupper (soprano), Richard Holm (tenor)
Bavarian Radio Chorus and Orchestra/Eugen Jochum
rec. 1956
Trionfo di Afrodite (1951) [40.33]
Annelies Kupper and Elisabeth Lindermeier (sopranos), Elisabeth Wiese-Lange (mezzo), Richard Holm (tenor), Ratko Delarko (baritone), Kurt Böhme (bass)
Bavarian Radio Chorus and Orchestra/Eugen Jochum
rec. 1956
MAJOR CLASSICS M2CD016 [55.14 + 76.36]


 
These are the première recordings of these three ‘scenic cantatas’. Orff wrote them for different forces over an extended period but finally declared they should be presented as a unit under the title Trionfi. The booklet notes, described as ‘compiled’ by John Kehoe, tell us that the recordings were made in the presence of the composer and “may be regarded as particularly authoritative.” However Orff was in the habit of endorsing practically any recording of his music made in Germany in the 1950s and 1960s as being made with his particular oversight, with the result that such claims are somewhat devalued.
 
This recording of Carmina Burana is really an absolute non-starter. The 1953 mono sound is lacklustre, but even worse is the balance of the recording with the voices very far forward and the orchestra relegated to the distant background. Important orchestral figures are almost completely inaudible – the trumpet punctuations in the second movement, for example – and there is an almost palpable lack of anything that could be described as glitter. The male choir sounds as though no more than a dozen voices are involved.
 
Even worse is the fact that someone has managed to transpose tracks 15 and 16 so that the complaints of the Abbot follow the drinking song into which it is supposed to lead. The tracks are correctly listed on the insert, but the resultant mess on the CD makes blatant nonsense. Nor is the solo singing anything to enjoy; the frail-sounding soprano has to take a breath in the middle of her long held note in Amor volat undique, and the baritone makes a mess of his words in the middle Ego sum Abbas.
 
The recording and performance of Catulli Carmina are a good deal better. The smaller scoring (just pianos and percussion) comes across a good deal more clearly, and the almost incidental solo vocal parts are enthusiastically taken. Jochum gets a good deal of bounce into the infectious rhythms, and the choral singing is crisp and cleanly delivered even in the extended unaccompanied passages in the centre of the work. Again there aren’t really enough choral singers here, and climactic passages tend to be rather underpowered.
 
The final Trionfo di Afrodite is very little known, and almost never performed – Archiv lists only four currently available recordings - against five for Catulli Carmina and an amazing 87 for Carmina Burana - all of them forming part of complete sets of the three works. The performance here is fine, but the work itself is not really as good as the other two cantatas. In order to make any impression at all it desperately cries out for good modern recording techniques. The whole result here is distinctly underwhelming, and as a whole this set pales by comparison with Franz Welser-Möst and Herbert Kegel’s surveys of the complete Trionfi (I have not heard the set by Wolfgang Schäfer). There appear to have been two other sets of Trionfi available at various times, conducted by Ferdinand Leitner and Vaclav Smetacek (both can be heard on the internet, but neither of these have precisely enticing recording qualities either).
 
DG have also reissued the mono recordings under discussion here as a boxed set (with the tracks on Carmina Burana in the correct order). Jochum re-recorded both Carmina Burana and Catulli Carmina in stereo for the same company (who presumably didn’t want to bother with Trionfo di Afrodite), and those performances – which also received the composer’s encomium – are more securely delivered in much better and crisper sound than here, but still not as well as in more modern digital versions.
 
As a matter of historical interest, this set is I am afraid of value only in indicating how much better we perform this music now than we did then. It has none of the enthusiasm of discovery that one often finds in early performances of new music; it just sounds rather cautious. Caution is most certainly not a virtue in Orff.
 
Paul Corfield Godfrey
 

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