ORFF: Carmina Burana – Agnes Giebel, soprano/Marcel Cordes, baritone/Paul Kuen, tenor/Chorus of the Westdeutschen Rundfunk/Cologne Radio-Symphony Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch
Pristine Audio PACO 044, 57:11 [avail. in various formats at www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Producer Andrew Rose has resuscitated the 1956 Carmina Burana (also reissued via EMI) and literally revivified its sonic grandeur. Originally touted as recorded “under the supervision of the composer,” the EMI original LP compelled our purchase because of the handsome cover art and included booklet – a classy enterprise. A final track on the LP had a brief laudatory comment by Orff himself. But even with Pristine’s minimal packaging, the resurrected aural power of this edition should have us intoning profane thoughts with musical glee.
Orff set 24 of the 254 poems from the collection Carmina Burana (Secular Songs from the Bueren Monastery) in 1935-1936. He considered the work a “Theatrum mundi,” a “world-drama,” in which Fortune influences various milieu and seasonal events: the Spring; the Garden; the Tavern; the Court of Love; and then returns cyclically to its original position. The fickleness of Fate, accompanied by a constant metric adjustment– despite an almost naïve simplicity of harmonic and textural means–reproduces the ephemera of life’s checks and balances. The changing locales–marked attacca to propel the progression–suggest the seductions of the Seven Deadly Sins, as men succumb to gluttony, drink, avarice, despair, and lust. The one tenor aria, ‘Olim lacus colueram,” set in The Tavern, recounts in Paul Kuen’s wonderful falsetto the agonies and humiliation of a roasted goose on the spit of desire. The baritone arias, too, demand an unnaturally high tessitura, the vocal line stretch to Dante’s depths and Lisztian ecstasies. The soprano part (Agnes Giebel) calls for a lyric – not coloratura – voice that must stretch for the high notes in “Dulcissime!” The orchestra is huge, calling for assorted battery adjustments such as tam-tams, ratchets, castanets, glockenspiel, and tubular bells, along with doubled or tripled brass and woodwinds. From a symbolist point of view, Orff has established the various Estates of Love and variously celebrated or exploded their attraction.
Any good Carmina recording must be judged inevitably by its chorus, and Bernard Zimmerman well prepared the Chorus of the West German Radio. The Latin diction resonates quite clearly, and often with visceral double-entendres, as in “Totus florio” from “Tempus est locundum” for baritone solo and assorted chorus, a cavalier indulgence of sexual desire that culminates in the “Dulcisime!” conquest and the nuptials of Blanziflor and Helena in “Ave formossima.” Wolfgang Sawallisch (b. 1923) in the mid 1950s had but a few EMI recordings to his credit, most notably some work in Richard Strauss with Dennis Brain and a fine album of Weber overtures. This recording established Sawallisch for collectors as a musician to note, as he urges the music–albeit in an understated, literal style–along while maintaining both its shifting metrics, the flux of good and evil fortune, and its innate sensuality. The eternal drinking song, “In taberna quando sumus,” bustles and bristles with pride and erotic self-satisfaction, the participants dousing the earth in Dionysian wisdom, and damn the torpedoes.
Given the popularity of the score and the glut of available recordings, collectors will be glad to obtain this historic reissue, which masterfully set the bar for so many others, joyfully improved as a sonic and intellectually delightful spectacle. Recommended.
— Gary Lemco