Orff: Carmina Burana

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Carmina Burana
PERFORMER: Hei-Kyung Hong (soprano), Stanford Olsen (tenor), Earle Patriarco (baritone); Gwinnett Young Singers, Atlanta SO & Chorus/Donald Runnicles
The profane cantata which launched a thousand film scores, not to mention a steady stream of recordings, will set few listeners alight in this musicianly but hardly incandescent performance. Runnicles clearly cares about the continuity which drives Orff’s cleverly selected sequences; fortune’s all-encompassing sway has a clean momentum, and the unstoppable kindling of desire at the court of love moves from discreet sensual throb to crisp pelvic thrusts. Orff’s surprisingly frequent tempo adjustments are perfectly well served, and the few telling orchestral details like flutter-tonguing flutes as Stanford Olsen’s roasted swan becomes ever more anguished, or the rude tuba blaring for the Abbot of Cucany, have plenty of presence in an otherwise restrained Telarc sound-stage.

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If there’s a real problem, it rests with the Atlanta Chorus, suggesting little more than puritan diligence. Yes, the medieval Latin and High German texts have been properly coached by experts, as the many admirable semi-choruses suggest (best of all is the dawning of spring, welcomed with plainsong purity). No hint surfaces, though, of the sensual brightness which alone can make these endless refrains on the village green anything other than soporific; and the altos beckoning ‘chume, gesellen min’ might as well be singing a funeral dirge. Soprano Hei-Kyung Hong sings with pastel prettiness, but all too few consonants, and Earle Patriarco’s obtrusive vibrato stops him cutting a dash through ‘Estuans interius’. The much more living histories of countless rivals will serve you better; my own favourite (though not often pulled off the shelves these days, I confess), is mischievous Muti (no longer generally available). David Nice