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New Year’s Eve 2004 concert
Carl ORFF (1895-1982)
Carmina Burana [60:00] Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b [15:29] George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Messiah, Hallelujah Chorus (arr. Sir Eugene Goossens) [5.13]
Sally Matthews (soprano); Lawrence Brownlee (tenor); Christian Gerhaher (baritone)
Berlin Radio Choir; Des Staats Children’s Chorus
Berliner Philharmoniker/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. 31 December 2004. Symphony Hall, Berlin.
Picture Format: 1080i Full HD; Aspect 16:9
Sound: PCM Stereo
Booklet notes in English, German, French
Subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese EUROARTS Blu-ray 2053674 [89:00]
It is not often that one pays one’s money and gets more than what it says on the box front. It is so here.
The reason I obtained this disc was to hear the performance of the title work, Carmina Burana; that is all that is shown on the front. Closer investigation revealed the programme also included a performance by the BPO under Rattle of Beethoven’s Leonora Overture No. 3 along with a full chorus singing Goossens’ arrangement of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.
The Leonora Overture No. 3 as well as being a regular concert piece is often used prior to the second act of the composer’s opera Fidelio, as well as being one of his workings for the original version of that opera. Hearing it took my ‘mind’s ear’ back to a performance of Fidelio at Covent Garden under the late Josef Krips. Conducting throughout without a score he brought such vibrancy and vitality to the whole I was overwhelmed and it has remained my benchmark ever since. This despite considerable affection for the disc versions by Klemperer and Kleiber fils. In that company it is no shame on Rattle that he (CH.2) does not disturb my front-runners, his being more routine if, with this orchestra in particular, played with smooth aplomb. Good enough as a fill up, though.
The ‘meat’ of this New Year’s Eve celebratory concert is Orff’s vocally challenging and intensely dramatic cantata Carmina Burana. I have always found it interesting and particularly demanding for the singers, yet have heard it only a handful of times in the past fifty years. Its challenges for the vocalists may contribute to this. Equally Orff’s espousing of Nazi ideology in the Second World War, during which he was reputed to have betrayed close colleagues, tainted his reputation more than the likes of Richard Strauss or Karajan and may have contributed to the neglect.
The texts of Carmina Burana are drawn from thirteenth century Latin poems mingled with French and Bavarian dialect German. The insistent rhythms and ostinato repetitions as well as the absence of atonal music contribute to its seeming physicality. The work is divided into three principal sections. These are framed by a prologue (CHs.2-3) with chorus and piano accompaniment and an Epilogue (CH.27) where varying dynamics and the forward pulse of the music, led by the timpani, is thrilling. The Ecce gratum (CH.7) really has Rattle on his toes as the orchestra responds to his beat and the superb diction of the chorus is outstanding.
If orchestra and chorus get top marks the singers are no mean rivals in that examination. Both male singers intrigued me, with Lawrence Brownlee going very high in the passagio in Olim lacus colueram (CH.15) without blanching his tone. Was it a question of ‘follow that’, I wonder, when baritone Christian Gerhaher sings Ego sum abbas (CH.16) with full power and superbly varied dynamics. A few minutes later he takes the high lyric Dies, nox et Omnia in Part 3 in falsetto. In between such vocal virtuosity, Sally Matthews could easily lose out - not so. To quiet and muted trumpets her clear and well articulated lyric soprano sings with long phrases (CH.17) and later soars with great variety of expression (CH.19). All this is not to forget the superb singing of the large choral forces and the particularly the children’s choir, their faces and chests reflecting pride. The chorus are particularly good with the piano pulsating rhythm of Veni, Veni, Venias (CH.22).
At the end the applause is warm, extended and fully deserved. Rattle, justifiably asks how to follow that, as an encore. With all fully briefed he takes the combined vocal forces to give a thrilling rendition to the renowned Hallelujah Chorus, played in the edition arranged by Sir Eugene Goossens; a fitting conclusion to a remarkable celebratory concert.
As far as I can recall this issue is the first time on Blu-Ray for Carmina Burana. Having recently seen and heard a Blu-Ray of a 1992 Berlin Concert with a full range of sound formats, I am surprised that this is stereo only, adequate though it is. Whilst the visual difference between 1992 and 2004 is considerable it is to be noted that the most recently recorded Blu-Ray issues, particularly those filmed in HD, are also a further measure better.