Time to 'fess up, I actually like Carmina Burana
; having recently reacquainted myself with Antal DorŠti’s version
– produced by the great Kenneth Wilkinson – I’m happy to admit to liking the piece even more. Ubiquity has done Carmina Burana
no favours, and too many dull recordings haven’t helped. Among the latter are very disappointing performances from Richard Hickox
and Paavo Jšrvi
. The good news is that the catalogue is crammed with good 'uns, among them Jochum’s classic DG version
and Blomstedt’s San Francisco one (Decca Universal).
Given that there are so many good Carmina Buranas
we really need another one? Well, yes, especially if it casts new light
on a work whose gentler virtues are often subsumed by big, pile-driving
performances. The Belgian conductor Jos van Immerseel and Anima Eterna
already have a reputation for reinvigorating familiar repertoire, including
and the waltzes, polkas and overtures of Johann
. Such reappraisals court controversy, but there’s
no doubting the care and enthusiasm that has gone into these recordings.
That’s evident in the Immerseel interview reproduced in the booklet, where he speaks candidly about his admiration for Carmina Burana
, and his desire to present it in a way that distinguishes it from its loud, boisterous predecessors. To that end Anima Eterna play on pre-war instruments and the choral forces – 36 singers in all – are much smaller than usual. It doesn’t stop there, for Immerseel’s choice of soloists reflects his view of how they – and the work as a whole – should sound. The impressive 64-page booklet, meticulously annotated, puts the finishing touches to what is a carefully considered and very well planned package.
So, how does it sound? In a word, revelatory. Those who feel reduced forces can only result in a strained-through-the-sheets performance will be pleasantly surprised by the taut, crisply accented account of the work’s opening invocation. There’s no lack of weight here, and the oriental-sounding gong adds a dash of spice to the proceedings. The bass drum and percussion – powerful but not overpowering – are simply sensational, and the spacious, detailed recording captures that elusive sense of a live event. Apart from a few minor stage noises there are no audible compromises and the audience is commendably silent.
Even at this stage it’s clear we’re in for a treat. Orff’s
instrumental colours have seldom glowed with such lustre, or his rhythms
seemed so infectious. The singing is just as remarkable, for what the
choruses may lack in sheer numbers they more than make up for in fine
articulation and a rare sensitivity to the texts. According to Immerseel
he wanted just the right Bavarian accents, which confirms yet again
how thoroughly this project has been planned and executed. Veris
is startling in its tactility and the nicely distanced
chorus sing with real feeling. The simple, punctuating accompaniment
has never sounded so discreet yet so vividly resonant.
Baritone Thomas Bauer’s Omnia sol temperat
with real sincerity, and that reminds us these are living, breathing
characters with itches to scratch, and not larger-than-life caricatures.
Indeed, everything about this performance is perfectly scaled, and the
benefits in terms of insight and enjoyment are immense. Some may quibble
that the pauses between numbers are too long – so many conductors
seem impatient to push ahead – but that too reminds us that this
is a collection of contrasting pieces that deserve to be heard - and
savoured - in their own good time.
isn’t as lusty as some, but that hardly matters
given this degree of detail and transparency of texture. These qualities
also shine through in the dance from Uf dem Anger
, which has
pleasing athleticism and shape. By contrast Floret silva nobilis
is sedate in a way that underlines the oft-hidden elegance - courtliness,
even - of this finely crafted pastiche. What a thrill it is to hear
this music delivered with such poise, and how perfectly it encapsulates
the affectionate, all-revealing character of Immerseel's remarkable
Hearing Carmina Burana
done this way makes many rivals seem
crude and breathless by comparison. Chramer, gip die varwe mir
is sung in the freshest of tones and its slow, dragging accompaniment
is a delight; the round dance that follows has added gravitas. Goodness,
this performance is full of surprises, not least in the delicious thrust
and parry of Swaz hie gat umbe
, where individual voices are
easily heard. This part of Carmina Burana
ends with a spirited
account of Were diu werlt alle min
its smaller scale, has plenty of weight and amplitude. Anima Eterna’s
brass and percussion players, whose individual presence is easier to
discern here than it is in heftier recordings, are heroic throughout.
gets under way with Bauer’s ardent Estuans
. His isn’t a particularly big voice or the most
steady, but it’s imaginatively used. Tenor Yves Saelens does a
fine roasted swan, and he copes well with the taxing tessitura the solo
demands; he certainly doesn’t go for the strained falsetto, as
some do. Once again the instrumental backing emerges with extra tizz
and tingle. Perhaps the chorus could have been a bit more incisive at
this point, but they make up for any reticence with a deft rendition
of In taberna quando sumus
; the latter is seasoned
with a magnificently controlled bass drum and dashes of that piquant
opens with a rather measuredaccount of
Amor volat undique
in which the clear, atmospheric boys’
voices make a telling contrast with soprano Yeree Suh’s very unusual
solo. She doesn't warble so much as coo, an effect that's not as odd
or contrived as it may seem. Hers isn’t a large voice either,
but it has all the range and sustaining power that the role demands.
Bauer’s Dies, nox et omnia
is even more accomplished,
for it has a quiet, very personal intensity that fits well with the
more introspective nature of this performance; ditto Suh’s Stetit
, whose high notes display astonishing precision and purity.
Immerseel keeps it all moving nicely, with no loss of focus or direction.
Those used to a bigger, more robust choral sound may feel this section
is a tad underpowered, although the benefits of greater transparency
are felt in moments of unexpected engagement and sudden shafts of loveliness.
Take the three tenors who sing in Si puer cum puellula
so often they sound corporate, anonymous, but here they come across
as a genuine, very spontaneous threesome. There’s a heightened
sense of flirtation here, as the men and women circle each other in
suggestive celebration. Suh’s In trutina
is simply ravishing
and she sounds suitably ravished in Dulcissime
. Even after
that, when lesser men are wont to droop, Immerseel goads and energises
his players to a truly rousing finale. That cheeky gong adds its voice
to the tumult.
Occasionally a recording comes along that compels one to hear a familiar
work with new ears. Robin
Ticciati’s Symphonie fantastique
is one, and this
is another. Trouble is, these newcomers make
it all but impossible to revisit long-established favourites. Immerseel’s
certainly won’t please everyone, but its
approachable scale and abundance of insights might just convert a few
as you’ve never heard it before; a triumph
for all concerned.