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Carl Orff: Carmina Burana
06 Oct 2005

ORFF: Carmina Burana

Once hailed by the Nazis as a symbol of Aryan supremacy, Carmina Burana has come to be recognized as a powerful expression of the gluttony and depravity present in a medieval, pagan society. An effective performance of Orff’s musical adventure must allow audiences to envision the “imagines magicae,” or magical images conveyed through the convergence of music and choreography.

Carl Orff: Carmina Burana

Maria Venuti, Ulf Kenklies, Peter Binder, Hamburger Knabenchor St. Nikolai, Mitglieder des Opernchors des Niedersächsischen Staatstheatres Hannover, NDR-Chor, NDR-Sinfonieorchester, Günter Wand (cond.)

Profil PH05005 [CD]


In the absence of a stage presence, the performers must strive to pointedly depict the illustrative tales portrayed in love songs, drinking songs, and fantasies that together form the rich tapestry that is Carmina Burana.

In this work, Carl Orff thoughtfully selected twenty-five Goliardic poems from the thirteenth-century Benektbeuren manuscript to set to music. The mood of each poem is so remarkably distinctive that in creating a musical setting, each required a drastically different approach. Through this wide-ranging contrast, Orff was able to demonstrate his amazing versatility as a composer. Likewise, Günter Wand and the musicians of the NDR Sinfonieorchester and Chorus commendably mirrored Orff’s talents.

The opening “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi,” radiated the necessary strength and power to rival the most prominent of ensembles. “O Fortuna” lends itself to images of greatness, and this performance never diminishes the desired outcome. On the contrary, the strength of the chorus, the carefully balanced orchestra, and the well-articulated unison passages, all added to the percussive effect to create a feeling of imposing dominance.

In contrast to the bold statements in this first section, the “Primo Vere,” a section devoted to Spring, was lyrical and well-phrased, reinforcing the diversity of the piece and its interpreters. Baritone Peter Binder showcased his talents as well through his smooth voice and relaxed delivery. The springtime feeling continued in “Uf dem Anger” (On the Lawn) where the strings interjected playfully syncopated melodies that where delightfully light and care-free.

“In Taberna” (In the Tavern), a colorful section opening with Baritone Peter Binder and featuring Tenor Ulf Kenklies, was among the more dramatic (in the Thespian-sense), in that the inebriation referred to in the text certainly came across in the soloists’ voices. Ulf Kenklies noticeably exaggerates the intoxicated inflections in a quite entertaining way, depicting images of swan resigned to its miserable fate, as described in the text.

The love songs of the “Cour D’Amour” are characterized by lilting voices in the chorus and Soprano Maria Venuti, as well as seductive calls from the tenor and bass soloists. The songs range from playful, to mischievous, to utterly romantic. Maria Venuti is simply amazing in “Dulcissime,” the last song of the section, showing off with her unwavering tone and power in a register-taxing, cadenza-like passage.

The restatement of the “O Fortuna” is as impressive in the closing frame of the work as in the opening. The variety of styles and themes that come together to form such a complex entity tend to leave audiences fully satisfied. Carmina Burana fans won’t want to miss out on this extraordinary performance that exceeds the already high expectations generally attributed to this monumental work.

Nathalie Hristov
Music Librarian
University of Tennessee

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