Orff: Carmina burana

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Orff
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Carmina burana
PERFORMER: Sumi Jo (soprano), Jochen Kowalski (alto), Boje Skovhus (baritone)Southend Boys’ Choir, London Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra/ Zubin Mehta
CATALOGUE NO: 9031-74886-2 DDD
Carl Orff’s epic restoration of the bawdy medieval Cantiones profanae has been enduringly popular since its first performance in 1937. It was unfortunate for the liberally inclined composer that the Nazis found echoes within the piece of fascist ideology, but the simple harmonies, libidinous lyrics and heavy throbbing rhythms have since found a politically more diverse audience.

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The sound world of Carmina burana is unique. There can be few composers who have secured such instant recognisability with just one work. The main thrust of this massive choral stampede, despite oases of calm, lies in the aggressive rhythmic and melodic impulses that acquire their momentum through ruthless repetition. This straightforward music represents Stravinsky’s brittle and energetic neo-classicism taken to extremes.

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That is not to deny an impressive use of orchestral colour, which is where this performance excels. Snape Maltings has been criticised for being acoustically cramped in large-scale works, but the sound on this recording is broad, translucent, and impeccably realised. Zubin Mehta has obviously decided to take Carmina burana seriously: he has drilled orchestra and chorus with a fanatical precision. The dynamics are meticulously controlled and the ensemble pirouettes around the stomping rhythms with keenly accented ferocity. A fine performance, further distinguished by soloists whose contribution does much to give charm to this otherwise savage piece of music. Christopher Lambton