Orff: Carmina Burana Suite (CD review)
My first thought before listening to this disc was how the already rowdy Carmina Burana by Carl Orff (1895-1982) would sound played by an all-wind band, the vocal parts revised for instruments (arranged for concert band by John Krance). I mean, Orff's twentieth-century updating of medieval songs normally requires a full orchestra, several choruses, and a host of soloists. Would a wind ensemble do it justice or just inflate its coarseness? I'm pleased to report that Harlan Parker and his seventy-odd Peabody Conservatory players do no harm to the piece and in most ways create a new and engaging rendition of an old favorite.
This is by way of saying that you'll recognize the music instantly and find each movement in the twenty-seven-minute suite revealing something you perhaps hadn't thought of before. The Peabody Wind Ensemble of John Hopkins University play with precision, if not with the complete zest and joy that I have heard from some major orchestras; in other words, they sound like they are maybe a little reticent about committing too much enthusiasm to a set of songs that requires a bit more earthiness. They are not stuffy, by any means, but they don't have the robust, unaffected air I find in, say, Previn's EMI recording, Blomstedt's Decca, or Jochum's DG.
Anyway, the Orff piece is just the most-familiar item on the disc; the album also contains a small-scale chamber work, Arthur Bird's Serenade for Wind Instruments (1898), which is quite charming, if forgettable; and Herbert Owen Reed's La Fiesta Mexicana (1954), a wonderfully varied and robust piece of music that has a little something in it for everybody, including a striking opening movement with trumpets and simulated fireworks.
It took a moment or two for me to adjust to the Naxos sound. At first, I thought it was a bit boisterous. A couple of minutes later, it seemed to fit the music. About halfway through the Orff, I realized it was not only appropriate, it was almost perfect. And by the beginning of Reed's La Fiesta, I thought it was downright spectacular. There is a picture of the ensemble in the booklet insert, and that's almost exactly what the sonic image sounds like: eight-to-ten players per row and about six rows deep, recorded at a modest distance. Depth of field is excellent; dynamics are strong; and clarity is more than acceptable. It's a topflight recording to complement a set of splendid performances.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.