Carl Orff/Carmina Burana – Paul Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Robert Shaw – Telarc Records (1981)/Concord Music Group (2018) TEL00006 [distr. by Universal Music Group] ****1/2:

(Featuring The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; conductor – Robert Shaw; Judith Blegen – soprano; Hakan Hagegard – baritone; William Brown – tenor)

The cantata has been a significant artistic expression of music since 17th century Italy. It is defined as a vocal composition with instrumental accompaniment, usually with a choir. There are religious or church cantatas, and secular ones. Initially conceived as a recitative work with a simple aria, it expanded in the Baroque period with additional vocals and orchestral arrangements. Bach and Handel took what was a “cultural” form of Italian music and elevated it to deeply religious contexts. At times the cantata is associated with oratorio. But this form of music continued through the Romantic, Classical and Modern periods, into the 20th Century. Its mass popular appeal attracted a variety of audiences.

Probably the most famous cantata is Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Written in 1936 and 1937, this scenic cantata was based on 24 medieval poems voiced in Latin and German. The composition is renowned for its social commentary and broad instrumentation including a wide array of percussion. It is a challenge to orchestras and singers, and has been performed by many premiere symphony orchestras. Ex-Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek also chose to do Carmina Burana. Concord Music Group has released a 180-gram vinyl upgrade of perhaps the most widely recognized extended cantata. Conductor Robert Shaw masterfully conducts the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus and The Atlantic Boy Choir in this rare 1981 digital vinyl recording. Three opera singers are featured, including Judith Blegen (soprano), Hakan Hagegard (baritone) and William Brown (tenor). For listeners without a working knowledge of Latin or Middle German, there is a text translation.The familiar “Fortune, Empress Of The Wheel” opens Side 1 with bursting loud voices, proclaiming the whimsical cruelty of fate and especially fortune. There are orchestral flourishes as the choir emulates the rhythmic strings. The first part is titled “Springtime” and observes winter leading into spring, as the ominous undercurrent transitions to lighter pastoral sway with a small chorus. As the baritone intones on No. 4, his lustful embrace of spring is potent. The chorus responds in punctuated enthusiasm as bells ring in proclamation. “On The Lawn” is two-pronged with an instrumental “Baroque-like” pastoral ditty as the Large and Small chorus emulate the lament of women for their lovers.

It has the grace of a minuet cadence, but with a specific working class feel. The chorale arrangements are deft, and the woodwind interludes are nimble. Part II (In The Tavern) returns to Latin and baritone voice. While this musing is cynical, there is an operatic pretense. It carries over into Poem 12 with tenor and male chorus. Drinking continues to be a key ingredient to the story. Poem 14 displays male overdrive with “not so righteous” indignation. ‘Part III (The Court Of Love)” alternates the female and male perspective. In Poem 15, the soprano is joined by the Chorus Of Boys in a quieter insight. Anger and lust return to Poem 16 with baritone lead. This leads to a resounding affirmation with double chorus that is captivating. Accordingly, the cantata reprises “Fortune” in chorale glory.

Side 4 is a performance of Paul Hindemith’s “Symphonic Metamorphosis”. Unlike his fellow countryman Carl Orff, Hindemith fled Nazi Germany in the late 1930’s. Subsequently, his music reflected some aspects of Americana. Based on music by Carla Maria Von Weber, it is a four-movement ballet score with Romantic-era instrumentation (significant percussion). Steeped in European compositional structure, the symphony was arranged for American orchestras. The first movement (allegro) has a forceful, almost military-like intro, but there is a transition to melodic strings and woodwinds. The second movement  (scherzo) is lovely, while the andantino utilizes different percussion instruments with string/brass tension. A lilting resonance is offset by a bell. The finale (Marche) has a processional fanfare (brass), crashing cymbals, integrated woodwinds and the requisite incendiary climax.

This vinyl upgrade of Carmina Burana and Symphonic Metamorphosis is superior. The separation is precise and vibrant. Male and female chorus are at opposite channels. When they combine the mix is vigorous. The vocalists are centered, and the volumes are ample to keep the bigger orchestra from overwhelming them. All of the customary high-quality packaging (gatefold, liner notes, disc sleeves) make this a must for vinyl aficionados.

TrackList:
Side 1: Fortune, Empress Of The World (Nos. 1 & 2); In Springtime (Nos. 3-5; On the lawn (Nos. 6,7;
Side 2: Part One : On The Lawn (Nos. 8-10); Part Two: In The Tavern (Nos. 11-14)
Side 3: Part Three: The Court Of Love (Nos. 15-21; Blanziflor And Helena (No. 24); Fortune Empress of The World (No. 25)
Side 4: Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria Von Weber

—Robbie Gerson

More Information may be found at Craft Records:

Logo Craft Recordings