This Carmina Burana was an EMI ‘bestseller’. No wonder Rattle is one of the few classical artists with a solid record contract. This is his second recording, taken from live performances in the Philharmonie, Berlin. Carl Orff’s oratorio, based on the writings of some mad, horny monks direct from the Middle Ages, still reigns supreme as the most ‘popular’ large scale classical work. This EMI is one of many, many fine recordings. I’m not sure the catalogue needs another, but this recording certainly has merit and is worthy of your kind attention.
I’ve heard and played the piece more times than I can count, but never have heard the orchestral parts performed with such stunning virtuosity as directed by Rattle. Brass and woodwind are super fine, but the strings and percussion super human. I would not recommend a full price purchase of Carmina based just on orchestral playing, but fans of the symphony orchestra should try to hear this performance on good equipment. It doesn’t get any better, even from such stellar recordings by Ozawa/Berlin and Previn/LSO, my two personal favourites.
The Rundfunkchor Berlin is absolutely superb and matches the Berlin Philharmonic with its vocal prowess. The tuning is spot on, the phrasing beguiles, and the balance is perfect. The choir has been prepared extremely well. What separates this performance from many others is the way Rattle is a stickler for Orff’s very precise musical directions. I’d hear a little accelerando that I had not heard before, and there it was in the Schott score. Same for other marks of expression, very subtle dynamic gradations, and instrumental balances. Like the choir, the score has been prepared to the last degree.
Sadly, it is the soloists that let this splendid recording down. Rattle really wants to develop the ‘character’ of each song and directs the singers to exaggerate substance and style. The result is a little cartoon-like, where, with Carmina, the music is parody enough. No exaggeration needed. The results are rough tone and dodgy intonation. Sally Matthews comes off best; she sings well and floats much of the coloratura, but is no match for Kathleen Battle with the same orchestra on Philips. And Lawrence Brownlace, tenor and Christian Gerhaher, baritone are both in the shadows of giants like Gerhard Stolze, Tom Allen and Fischer-Dieskau. Sadly, they do not allow a full recommendation. A shame, as lovers of classical music should hear the amazing standards of orchestral execution.