Orff: Carmina Burana (XRCD24 review)

Sheila Armstrong, Gerald English, Thomas Allen; Andre Previn, London Symphony Orchestra and St. Clement Danes Grammar School Boys’ Choir. Hi-Q Records HIQXRCD8.

I’m not a big fan of Orff's music, but audiences seem to love it and you hear it used in movies all the time. Recorded in 1974, this performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana by Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra remains one of the best. EMI reissued it at mid price in their “Great Recordings of the Century” line in 1998, then in their “Masters” series in 2010, and now Hi-Q Records give us a JVC XRCD24 K2 audiophile remaster in 2012.

For those few of you who may not be familiar with the work, Carl Orff (1895-1982) based Carmina Burana on the collected songs and poems of medieval minstrels. A booklet note tells us “Carmina Burana --‘Songs of Benedikbeuern’--was the title given to a thirteenth-century manuscript collection of songs (mostly in Latin) found in a monastery at Benedikbeuern in southern Bavaria in the 19th century, by J.A. Schmeller, when he published it in 1847. Orff came across the collection in 1935, and was immediately struck by it, particularly by the illumination of the Wheel of Fortune reproduced as a frontispiece, and conceived the idea of setting the songs to music.”

The assemblage of tunes contains several dozen short vocal pieces, 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.” Or “Love flies everywhere, He is seized by desire. Young men, young girls, Are rightly coupled together.” Or “The girl without a lover, Does without any pleasure.” Or “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. Previn brings out the rustic joy of the music with an obvious love for it, almost reveling in the vulgarity.

There were two advantages of the 1998 and 2010 EMI discs over the company’s very first CD mastering: Superior sonics and a cheaper price. The 1998 audio quality (the same mastering repeated for the 2010 disc) was very slightly smoother and a touch fuller than the first CD transfer. Being over three-and-a-half decades old, the recording was analogue, of course, but the Abbey Road Technology (ART) remastering from 1998 removed some of the edge one may have noticed in the earlier full-priced CD; not all of it, but enough. Now, the sound is even better in Hi-Q’s audiophile remastering, and it makes Previn’s interpretation, full of love and lust and other sensual delights, an even greater delight.

EMI recorded the music in Kingsway Hall, London, in December of 1974, and the sonic quality was well up to EMI’s customary high standards of the day. Hi-Q use the JVC XRCD K2 disc processing system and had JVC remastered and manufacture the disc in Japan. The XRCD K2 system is a meticulous technique that begins with the analogue signal digitized directly into K2 24-bit, sent to JVC for playback via Digital K2 to eliminate jitter and distortion, converted using K2 Super Coding to 16 bit, and encoded using a DVD K2 laser with JVC’s Extended Pit Cutting Technology, the operation controlled by a K2 Rubidium Clock supposedly over 10,000 times more accurate than a conventional crystal clock. What all this means is that the process is about as precise and accurate as you can get in transferring an analogue tape signal to compact disc.

As usual, I put the Hi-Q disc into one CD player and the latest EMI issue into another, changing them out from time to time during my comparison to ensure I was listening to the discs and not the players. What I heard did not surprise me, although it was not a night-and-day difference, just a subtle improvement in the sound of the Hi-Q product. The EMI appeared a tad forward and bright, especially during the predominately vocal sections, while being a touch veiled, too. The Hi-Q was just that much clearer and more dynamic. Remember, the differences I heard were not the kind you might even notice except on direct A-B comparison. Impact, transients, and bass were also tauter on the Hi-Q, and highs sounded better extended.

This is not to suggest that because the Hi-Q disc further clarifies the sound that it makes it any less forward or bright; it’s just makes it a bit more open and transparent. Surprisingly, perhaps, the biggest improvements I noticed were in the quieter moments of the music, the wider dynamic range and greater lucidity of the Hi-Q product effecting a better low-level response.

If you already own one of the EMI Previn discs and like it well enough to think it warrants an upgrade in sonics, the Hi-Q release may be just the thing you’re looking for. Moreover, if you don’t already own the recording in any form, you might consider Hi-Q if you have a really super playback system and very deep pockets because the Hi-Q doesn’t come cheap.

The only other recordings I can think of that compare favorably 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 definite advantage in sound if you go all the way with the Hi-Q remaster. Besides, Hi-Q Records package the disc in a very substantial and beautifully illustrated Digipak, with note pages fastened book-like inside. As always, it’s a first-class presentation.

JJP

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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 more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine 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, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
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.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa