Anon: Carmina burana; The Great Mystery of the Passion

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi Musique d’abord
WORKS: Carmina burana; The Great Mystery of the Passion
PERFORMER: Ensemble Organum/Marcel Pérès
CATALOGUE NO: HMA 1901323-24 Reissue (1990)
The 13th-century Carmina burana is best known as a collection of bawdy songs but, at the end of the manuscript, there is a group of liturgical dramas. None of these has ever been recorded complete because the notation is unspecific as to exact pitch. In 1979 René Clemencic concocted a selection of pieces from the Passion Play (on the Harmonia Mundi label) but, in 1990, Marcel Pérès produced the more extended version reissued here by weaving the play into the Mass for Palm Sunday, by guessing at the pitches implied by the notation and by inventing some melodies of his own.


The result is quite powerful and moving though, with so much guesswork, it is more a simulation of the intensities of the original than a recreation of its musical content. Much is done to keep the listener’s attention: for example, when Lazarus passes through the Valley of Death an eerie low drone keeps the melody flickering unnervingly between consonance and dissonance and, at the end of the first disc, the delicate skein of female voices lends an almost unbearable tenderness to the singing of the Gradual Tenuisti. Only the chorus of lamenting women from Jerusalem (composed by Pérès) slips into Kitsch and reminds us of Hollywood rather than the holy rood. Anthony Pryer