Orff: Carmina Burana

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: EuroArts
WORKS: Carmina Burana
PERFORMER: Sally Matthews (soprano), Lawrence Brownlee (tenor), Christian Gerhaher (bass); Berlin Radio Choir; Knabenchor des Staats- und Domchores Berlin; Berlin PO/Simon Rattle

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To celebrate New Year’s Eve 2004 in the Berlin Philharmonie, Simon Rattle conducted Orff’s Carmina Burana, a performance which was rush-released onto CD the following spring. Odd, then, that this DVD has taken so long to appear. Or perhaps not so odd, given the unsatisfyingly ragbag feel of the concert as a whole.

By way of an encore, Handel’s ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus, dolled up in tinselly orchestration, is played with due swagger, though sung in stilted English by the otherwise excellent choir. And a limp performance of Beethoven’s Leonore No. 3 plays before Orff’s bawdy barnstormer. 

As for the Orff itself, Rattle offers a refined, even strait-laced reading, somewhat short on energy and excitement. As the roasting swan, it’s hard to judge whether tenor Lawrence Brownlee is painfully overstretched or sounding suitably pained.

Sally Matthews nevertheless brings a creamy rich sensuality to her solos. Best of all, baritone Christian Gerhaher really lives and breathes every moment of hedonistic self-loathing and sexual longing in his various contrasting cameos.

Yet this remains a dully filmed concert performance of what Orff originally intended as a stage work. For a DVD of Carmina Burana, go instead for Jean Pierre Ponnelle’s cod-medieval mystery film starring Lucia Popp and Hermann Prey (on RCA). Mark Pappenheim

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