Orff: Carmina Burana Suite (CD review)

Also, Bird: Serenade; Reed: La Fiesta Mexicana. Harlan D. Parker, the Peabody Conservatory Wind Ensemble. Naxos 8.570242.

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.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa