Orff: Carmina Burana

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Orff
LABELS: Zig Zag
WORKS: Carmina Burana
PERFORMER: Yeree Suh (soprano), Yves Saelens (tenor), Thomas Bauer (baritone); Collegium Vocale Gent; Anima Eterna Brugge/Jos van Immerseel
CATALOGUE NO: ZZT 353

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Jos van Immerseel plus Anima Eterna spells revisionism, and that is what you get here: a Carmina Burana retooled with instruments of its period, and stripped of back-projected late-Romantic cushiness. The opening ‘O Fortuna’ is less of a juggernaut than usual, the combination of raw-edged, 1930s percussion with a smallish number of voices (three dozen) creating a more tribal, elemental feel than in big, ‘symphonic’ readings of the music.

The scaled-down vocal forces also bring the work’s monastic origins into sharper focus – individual voices in the confraternal male chanting of ‘Fortune plango vulnera’ are clearly discernible, not homogenised and smoothed over. That timbral distinctiveness marks the orchestral playing too, witness the deliciously tangy opening of ‘Veris leta facies’, the buzz and snap of gut strings in ‘Reie’, and the skirling punch and thwack of ‘Tanz’ in ‘Uf dem Anger’.
Immerseel gives the expressive baritone soloist Thomas Bauer plenty of elbow-room in ‘Omnia sol temperat’ to conjure love’s pained melancholy. He’s also superbly caustic in the accompaniment to ‘Olim lacus colueram’, where roasted tenor Yves Saelens sings his swan-song without resorting to vocal chicanery, and makes you squirm for all the right reasons.

The opening sequence of ‘Cour d’amours’ is among the tenderest and most affecting on record, Yeree Suh’s soprano floating high notes with seraphic ease and a welcome absence of operatic rhetoric. The choral singing throughout combines precision with exuberance. For its palate-tingling revelations and suffusing musicality, this would now be my Carmina of first reference.

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Terry Blain