CARL ORFF: Carmina Burana Gala Concert, Blu-ray (2004/2010)

by | Oct 27, 2010 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

CARL ORFF: Carmina Burana Gala Concert, Blu-ray (2004/2010)

New Year’s Concert by The Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle
Soloists: Sally Matthews, sop.; Lawrence Brownlee, tenor; Christian Gerhaher, bar.; Rundfunk Choir Berlin; Knabenchor des Staats & Domchores Berlin; Kai-Uwe Jirka, chorus master
Studio: EuroArts 2053678 (10/26/10) [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 1.77:1 for 16:9 color
Audio: German DTS 5.1, DD 5.1, PCM stereo
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese
No Region Code
Extras: Also includes BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3 & HANDEL-GOOSSENS: Hallelujah Chorus; Preview excerpts from other EuroArts concert videos
Length: 89 minutes
Rating: *****

There have been many different productions of Orff’s humorous, emotional and sometimes bawdy choral-orchestral work, some even turning it into a modern ballet piece (a current production here in Portland paired it with the opera Pagliacci). This one is a straight-ahead concert performance with no gimmicks, but it was a highly unusual choice for the Berlin Philharmonic. It appears the good Germans felt they had to have an excuse for such a wild work, and a big New Year’s Eve blowout such as the Vienna Philharmonic does provided it. We reviewed the CD version of this performance (on EMI) back in 2005.

Orff used medieval Latin poems from a late 13th-century manuscript collection, mixed with some French and Bavarian dialect poems of the same period. I should say first off that although I recall viewing a video of the Carmina Burana in the past, and have some familiarity with the work since I played one of the two pianos in it at college, this is the first time I have used the subtitles to spell out in English the interesting lyrics of the work. They added immensely to my appreciation and understanding of the piece – to the point that even if the video performance were not of the super quality of this one, I would prefer enjoying the Carmina Burana on the screen after this. The lyrics effectively reflect the interests and concerns of the average person at this time and place in history.   I had thought the manuscripts had come from some type of monks, but there is no mention of monks in the liner notes, and many of the songs have a thoroughly secular slant to them, to say the least.

Of the CD versions of the work, I recall having found some years ago that those featuring younger choruses – even college ensembles – often sounded more exciting and interesting in this barbarous celebration of life. It seemed the older choruses and conductors were being even a bit prudish in their performances of the work. The Carmina Burana cries out for surround reproduction, and my favorite SACD has been the one on Telarc with Donald Runnicles and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus. But now in comparison to Rattle’s version the Telarc sounds muffled and distant, with much less energy and excitement.  The DTS surround seems to do about as excellent a job sonically as the more advanced lossless DTS-HD on Blu-rays, and the image quality thruout is excellent. The soloists are especially magnificent: Christian Gerhaher makes us feel empathy with the swan roasting on the spit, and Sally Matthews is transporting in her arias near the end of the work giving herself up to physical love. Orff’s intense dramatic cantata is given the most specific, sharply delineated, and energetic performance I have ever heard from anyone. Rattle and his forces make many of the competing versions sound rather slapdash. Of course, that’s to be expected of the world’s No. 2 top orchestra according to the latest list (the Concertgebouw is No. 1).  But Carmina Burana also requires a huge and completely together choral force plus three exceptional soloists.  This production has them all in spades.

Rattle talks to the audience about racking his brain to come up with an encore to the Carmina Burana and how he finally chose Eugene Goossens’ over-the-top arrangement for large chorus and large orchestra of "The Hallelujah Chorus." The notes mention that no one knows why King George II started the tradition of audiences standing up for the piece, but it is surmised that it might have been because he had the gout and was just stretching his legs!

 — John Sunier

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