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REVIEW
RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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Carl ORFF (1895-1982)
Trionfi - Trittico teatrale

Carmina Burana- cantiones profanae (1935-36) [57.52]
Celestina Casapietra (sop); Horst Hiestermann (ten); Karl-Heinz Stryczek (bar); Rundfunkchor Leipzig/Horst Neumann; Dresdner Kapellknaben/Konrad Wagner
Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester Leipzig/Herbert Kegel
Catulli Carmina
- ludi scaenici (1943) [38.08]
Ute Mai (sop); Eberhard Büchner (ten); Jutta Czapski, Günter Philipp, Wolfgang Wappler, Gerhard Erber (pianos)
Rundfunkchor Leipzig/Horst Neumann
Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester Leipzig/Herbert Kegel
Trionfo di Afrodite
- concerto scenico (1952) [40.45]
Isabella Nawe (sop) - La Sposa; Eberhard Büchner (ten) - Lo Sposo; Renate Krahmer (sop) - Corifea; Horst Hiestermann (ten) - Corifeo; Reiner Süß (ten) - Corifeo; Renate Krahmer (sop I); Regina Werner (sop II); Karl-Heinz Stryczek (bar)
Rundfunkchor Leipzig/Horst Neumann; Rundfunkchor Berlin/Wolf-Dieter Hauschild
Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester Leipzig/Herbert Kegel
rec. Leipzig: Versönungskirche, 1974 (Carmina); 1971 (Catulli); Haus Auensee, 1975 (Trionfo). ADD
No libretto
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95116 [71.35 + 65.29]

The collective title “Trionfi” evokes the world of Roman festivals and processions. Essentially, the three works celebrate erotic love in medieval and classical times, with the last centred on a wedding in antiquity; they are economically split over two discs in a slimline case and on sale at Brilliant’s usual super-bargain price. These recordings, originally released on Berlin Classics, were made in excellent analogue sound in the 1970s and are presented in their order of composition, being 1935-6, 1943 and 1951 respectively, so expect to hear a progression in Orff’s style over fifteen years alluding not only to Stravinsky’s “Les noces” but also betraying the influence of post-war composers.

This music really cries out for modern, stereo sound, so Jochum’s earlier première mono recording (review review) is not really in the running for today’s general listener. There is a 1974 recording of the complete triptych by Ferdinand Leitner made around the same time as this one by Kegel, which has received lukewarm reviews, including one from my MusicWeb International colleagues Jonathan Woolf (review review) and Nick Barnard (review). When Rob Barnett, reviewed this Kegel set back in 2002 he mentioned the Smetacek version from Supraphon in the 1960s but had not heard it; neither have I, but in short this probably remains the best version available, given the shortage of alternative options, if you want the triptych known as “Trionfi” rather than just the most popular work by far, “Carmina Burana”.

There is a real and constant problem with the omission of texts; while “Carmina Burana” might be familiar enough to most listeners to enable them to get by, the other two works might baffle anyone unable to understand Catullus in the original Latin. “Catulli Carmina” is a choral cantata for tenor, playing Catullus himself, with Lesbia being the object of his unrequited love. The text for “Trionfo di Afrodite” is an amalgam in Latin and Greek of poetry by Catullus, Sappho and a fragment of Euripides, with Italian subtitles to demonstrate its indebtedness to a Renaissance idiom. The notes provide some brief guidance regarding content but that is no real substitute for the words in toto.

The conductor, Herbert Kegel, was a prolific recorder (review), especially of twentieth century music, and I particularly liked his swift, driven “Parsifal” and excellent “Gurrelieder”; he brings the same energy and propulsion to Orff’s music in which he was something of a specialist.

The glory of these recordings is the chorus, the combined radio choirs of Berlin and Leipzig supplemented by the Dresden Kapellknaben (misspelt on the back cover), which sings with great energy and attack and displays admirable diction throughout. The depth and clarity of the recorded sound also allow us to hear how good the orchestra and individual players, maintaining excellent balance between the unusual groups of instruments Orff employs.

However, the soloists in “Carmina Burana” are not as a trio quite up to the standards of the choir and orchestra. Best of them is Horst Hiestermann in his famous roasted swan aria; he is both anguished and very musical. Baritone Karl-Heinz Stryczek has a big, rather fuzzy sound which could at times have benefited from having a leaner, more focused tone with more breath under it to provide resonance. That said, he characterises with gusto. Soprano Celestina Casapietra, the conductor’s wife, cannot compare with the likes of Gundula Janowitz, Lucia Popp or Barbara Hendricks as she does not have their purity and steadiness – or indeed their energy and accuracy; she slides too often and sounds tentative in the taxing “Dulcissima”, but is adequate.

“Catulli Carmini” is a much smaller scale piece with only four pianos and percussion but something of the same mood as its famous predecessor. There are plenty of hypnotic syncopations and repetitions although it is melodically rather impoverished; there is a predominance of a capella chanting with choral backing, punctuated by outbursts of rowdy shouting, laughing and clapping. The aforementioned absence of texts makes it harder to appreciate. Eberhard Büchner is wonderfully dissolute and lecherous, theatrically yelling without damaging his voice. The choir is energised and salacious. Soprano soloist Ute Maier is decidedly superior to Casapietra, being neater and purer of voice, especially in the upward leaps of “Jucundum mea vita”, which is clearly a close cousin to “Dulcissima”.

“Trionfo di Afrodite” is clearly even less melodic; it relies upon ostinato rhythms and percussive figures provided by a much bigger orchestra, although tutti passages are rare; Orff is more concerned to devise multiple varieties of texture than blow the lid off. The performance is very good but I do not in truth enjoy it as much as the previous two works.

In brief, this is as fine a collection of Orff’s triple confection as you could hope to encounter although there are admittedly superior individual recordings of “Carmina Burana”.
 
Ralph Moore

 

 




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