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Recordings

Carl Orff: Carmina Burana
30 May 2007

ORFF: Carmina Burana

Released in early 2007, Marin Alsop’s performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is an exciting, new recording of this familiar and durable scenic cantata, based on medieval lyrics in Latin and German.

Carl Orff: Carmina Burana.

Claire Rutter, soprano, Tom Randle, tenor, Markus Eiche, baritone, Highcliffe Junior Choir, Bournemouth Symphony Youth Chorus, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Marin Alsop, conductor.

Naxos 8.570033 [CD]

$7.99  Click to buy

Marin Alsop’s interview on NPR offers some insights into her approach to this work (click here). As she notes there, “The music itself toggles between huge forces and a single voice, juxtaposing majesty and intimacy with ease.” Yet Alsop does not merely emphasize the dialect of large forces versus smaller ones, or extraverted pieces as opposed to more intimate ones. Rather, she brings out nuances throughout the performance that result in a thoughtful reading of the score.

With the impressive forces of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, supported by both the Highcliffe Junior Choir and the Bournemouth Youth Chorus, this performance has an impressive sound for those passages which require it, like Orff’s familiar setting of the text “O fortuna.” In “Fortune plago vulnera, the brass is rich and full, with the middle trumpet sounds balancing the upper ones, and in the subsequent section, “Vera leta facies,” the emphasis on the internal cadences between the verses reinforce the modality of the piece. One by one, details like these contribute to a reading that brings out some of the subtleties that are part of Orff’s work.

As much as Orff’s Carmina Burana can be a showpiece in a concert program, it is refreshing to hear more than a dichotomy between fast-and-loud and slow-and-soft sections, such that Alsop brings gradations of dynamics to “Ecce gratum” that also allow the text to be understood quite clearly. Thus, with the “Tanz” of the first section of the work (track 6) in which the structure of the piece makes use of repetition, Alsop’s flexible beat brings out the character of the piece and also “In taberna quando sumus,” which has a breadth of expression that allows it to serve as the climax of the third section.

The soloists in this recording also bring some distinction to the work. Markus Eiche has a fine baritone sound that allows him to stand apart from the chorus and orchestra without seeming strained or taxed. He is particularly impressive in “Estuans interius,” which requires a full and untiring effort and clear diction to succeed. Eiche does this well, and those who do not know his voice should gain a good sense of its depth in this piece. He must use an almost falsetto in “Dies, nox et omnia,” which has its own demands on the voice.

The latter piece is followed by the familiar solo for the soprano “Stetit puella,” which Claire Rutter delivers well, with pleasantly sinuous melismas. Her diction helps to punctuate the phrases cleanly, and the passages in the upper range suggest ease and facility. Command of the “Dulcissime” solo is memorable, with the a piacere treatment of the pitches effective in pacing this climatic number in the work. With the tenor, Tom Randle is equally impressive, especially in the demanding part he has in “Olimlacus coluerman.” In fact, he colors his voice such that it sometimes has the sound of an alto in the higher passages. Such nuances in color are fully in line with the other distinctive sonorities that characterize Alsop’s recording of this work. As the piece comes to its conclusion with the reprise of the familiar “O fortuna,” Alsop does not merely repeat what she had done earlier in the performance, but shapes it subtly, and it is such subtleties that set her recording apart from others.

All the forces involved are suited to the work, which comes off with a polish and flair that it requires. While many recordings exist, Alsop’s stands out for its vividness, a quality that emerges clearly on the CD, which benefits from fine sound and balance. The massed choral forces blend well win the tutti passage, while contributing their unique colors when the score requires it. Similarly, Bournemouth Symphony offers a solid sound that emerges confidently in the instrumental numbers. At times the individual timbres, like the flute in one of the early “Tanz” are wonderfully soloistic, while sections, like the horns that respond to the flute in the same piece offer a fine contrast. Alsop is attention to these and other details that set this recording apart from others. This is a welcome addition to the many fine recordings of Orff’s famous Carmina Burana.

James Zychowicz

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