Orff: Carmina Burana (CD review)

Sally Matthews, soprano; Lawrence Brownlee, tenor; Christian Gerhaher, baritone; Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Berlin Radio Chorus. EMI 7243-5-57888-2.

Since moving to the conductorship of the Berlin Philharmonic some years ago, Sir Simon Rattle has been advocating live recording with a vengeance. I admit this often produces more lively and spontaneous results, having a real audience during the performance, but it doesn’t always do a lot for a recording’s sonics. Such is the case with Rattle’s release of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, that perennial favorite of music lovers the world over, as well as movie directors and television producers.

First, the performance. The soloists, chorus, and orchestra seem at first glance letter perfect, as we might expect from these people, and Rattle’s interpretation is vigorous, to say the least. The reading is, however, perhaps a touch too slick for its own good, lacking some of the earthiness the work might have found by its being slowed down a tad rather than taken at such extreme tempo changes. Rattle’s slowly and softly articulating one section of the music and then blasting it out fast and loud in the next can be exhilarating for a while but ultimately taxing on the mind and the ears. Nor do his singers always provide him the best support.

Created in 1937 and based on thirteenth-century manuscripts in Latin, French, and German, the Carmina Burana songs divide into three parts covering the pleasures of springtime, drinking, and love, all within the framework of “Fortuna,” luck or fate. Under Rattle, everything seems quite energetically pursued, but, as I say, those drastic changes of pace tend to undermine the whole enterprise.

The live sound, made in the Philharmonie, Berlin, in 2004 does not appear to me as convincing as most studio recordings, the way it’s miked making some instruments fade into the background or suddenly jump to the forefront. The solo voices come off best, very clear and natural in their presentation, but the orchestra fares more poorly. The sound, quite dynamic, is rather bright in the climaxes and fortissimos, somewhat muted at other times, and slightly thin overall. Frankly, despite the newer digital origins of the Rattle disc, I found it inferior to the older, analogue recordings of Andre Previn (EMI) and Eugen Jochum (DG), whose interpretations seem to me more refined, more robust, more consistent, and, yes, better recorded.


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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