Orff: Carmina Burana (CD review)

Sheila Armstrong, Gerald English, Thomas Allen; Andre Previn, St. Clement Danes Grammar School Boys' Choir and London Symphony Orchestra. EMI 50999 6 31802 2 0.

Recorded in 1974, this performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana by Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra remains one of my favorites. EMI reissued it at mid price in their "Great Recordings of the Century" line in 1998, and in 2010 it's back in their "Masters" series, as good as ever.

There are two advantages to this disc over EMI's very first CD mastering: Superior sonics and a cheaper price. The 1997 audio quality is very slightly smoother and a touch fuller than the transfer before it. Being over three-and-a-half decades old, it is an analogue recording, of course, but the Abbey Road Technology remastering removed some of the edge one may have noticed in the earlier full-priced CD; not all of it, but enough. None of the added warmth detracts from the earthiness of Previn's interpretation, though. It is still full of love and lust and other sensual delights.

For those few of you who may not be familiar with the work, Carl Orff published Carmina Burana in 1935 and based it on the collected songs and poems of thirteenth-century minstrels. There are several dozen short vocal pieces in the assemblage plus orchestral accompaniment, grouped together in four sections. The music is vivid and vibrant, especially in Previn's hands, and it speaks mainly of the yearnings and pleasures of the flesh.  For example, "Sweet, rosey-hued mouth, Come and make me well"; "Love flies everywhere, He is seized  by desire. Young men, young girls, Are rightly coupled together"; "The girl without a lover, Does without any pleasure"; "If a boy with a girl Tarries in a little room, Happy their mating." And so on in its earthy way; I think you get the idea. Ably supported by a boys' choir, the soloists have a field day with lyrics like these.

If you already own EMI's first, full-price CD, this new release may be enough of a sonic improvement to warrant a change; but if you own the "Great Recordings" remastering, you already have the identical copy of this one. The thing is, if you don't already own the recording in any form, you might consider now as good a time as any to invest in it. The only other recordings I can think of that compare with Previn's are Blomstedt's with the San Francisco Symphony (Decca), Ormandy's with the Philadelphia Orchestra (Sony), and Jochum's with the German Opera Orchestra (DG). Yet Previn has the edge in sound.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa