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Charles H. Parsons
American Record Guide, September 2014

ORFF, C.: Carmina Burana (Rattle) (NTSC) 2053678
ORFF, C.: Carmina Burana (Rattle) (Blu-ray, HD) 2053674

These are powerful performances…Delicate as needed, then full volume, gut-busting. Trumpets blaze, percussion crashes, gongs bong, the chorus peals out with excitement. It’s thrilling. © 2014 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide

J.F. Weber
Fanfare, March 2011

When Simon Rattle’s live performance was issued, I was astounded (Fanfare 28:5) that the CD could be mastered, pressed, warehoused, shipped to America, sent on to Fanfare, and mailed to me, arriving exactly three weeks after the concert. Not so the DVD, which has just appeared not quite six years later. The concert opened with Beethoven and, since it was New Year’s Eve, closed with the most rousing piece an English conductor could bring to a German audience, a chorus by the “great English composer Handel,” as Rattle announced from the podium. This celebratory occasion explains the choice of the Goossens orchestration made for Beecham’s 1959 recording. At least two earlier recordings of the Orff have been available on video, Ozawa’s Philips version on VHS and Eichhorn’s Eurodisc version on DVD, but I have not seen either one. Rattle’s CD ranks among the better versions, so this is thoroughly enjoyable.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, March 2011

Regular readers of my reviews know that I am very fond of many of Simon Rattle’s performances, but that I am also selective. Some of them work, and some of them don’t; even within the range of music in which I find him most effective—French and Russian music—there are things that are fantastic and things that are ho-hum. Two of the composers I’ve never felt that he connects with, for whatever reason, are Beethoven and Mahler, and his performance of the Leonore Overture No. 3 here is no exception. The reason I don’t like his Beethoven is that it is too relaxed in tempo but, more importantly, too “round” in phrasing, not dramatic enough, falling short of the raw power when the composer demands that you open up emotionally. But Rattle’s approach to Beethoven is a very British one, based in part on the influence of Beecham and Kempe, whose Beethoven was also rather disappointing, therefore I will pass on further comment regarding his version here except to say that it is much of the same. I do not, however, believe that he is being at all “artificial” in his approach; I’m sure it’s the way he feels the music; but it doesn’t work for me.

I was curious to hear how he conducted Carmina Burana precisely because it’s a work related in mood, if not structure, to not only Beethoven but also Stravinsky, which Rattle also conducts in a more relaxed fashion with more legato phrasing. That you can conduct this piece with a certain amount of legato phrasing was proven in Seiji Ozawa’s famous early 1970s recording for RCA; but at the outset here Rattle is too slow. The opening chords have weight, but no crispness. The following section of “O fortuna” is likewise not crisp; the rhythms flow, and do not have momentum—until, suddenly and capriciously, Rattle increases the tempo by one and a half times. Why? Had he done it right to begin with, it would have had enough momentum on its own. Succeeding sections of the work are performed in a similar fashion. The Berlin forces play, and sing, very well for him—that’s not a problem. The problem, to use the colloquial phrase of an old swing song from the 1930s: “He Ain’t Got Rhythm.”

Christian Gerhaher is a superb baritone, warm and rich of tone, musical and sensitive to text, but “Omnia Sol temperat” practically comes to a standstill. “Ecce gratum,” like “O fortuna,” starts out too slow but speeds up. I was most disappointed by the orchestral “Tanz,” which has the opposite problem: It starts out in a good, quick tempo, but slows down for the middle section with flute. Moreover, the violinists do not bow their instruments roughly enough. (I still recall the late Klaus Tennstedt, in rehearsal with the Cincinnati Symphony, screaming at them to play more roughly: “This is a peasant dance! Give it some life!”) In “Were diu werlt alle mein,” the tempo is right but the brass rhythms aren’t crisp enough. Surprisingly, “Estuans interius” is perfect in tempo, rhythm, inflection, and crispness. Lawrence Brownlee’s “song of the roasted swan” is sung as well as, or better than, I’ve ever heard it in my life (only the wonderful Dutch tenor John van Kesteren has sung it as well in my experience). “Ego sum abbas” is, likewise, wonderfully sung and conducted—this, at least, works partly due to the tremendous energy that Gerhaher puts into it. Rattle’s soft approach works beautifully, however, in “Amor volat undique” and “Dies, nox et omnia.” Sally Matthews sings very well in “Stetit puella,” but the lack of pointed rhythm dulls the musical impact. “In trutina” floats beautifully. Rattle has the right rhythm for “Tempus est iocundum,” but doesn’t make enough of the rhythmic accents or dynamic contrasts—and again, another capricious accelerando. I just don’t get it. Matthews, sadly, is too loud on her entrance in “Dulcissime,” and the finale also lacks punch.

As an encore, Rattle chooses the infamous Eugene Goossens arrangement of the “Hallelujah” chorus from Messiah. This was an inspired choice: Only, as he put it, an “over-the-top” arrangement of Handel could possibly follow Orff. His performance is spirited, with wonderful clarity, but again—for my taste—a shade too reserved, a shade too slow. I missed Tommy Beecham. But it works, it’s a New Year’s party, so what the heck.

Recommended only for die-hard Rattle fans.

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, December 2010

This New Year’s Eve 2004 performance of Carmina Burana under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle from the Berlin Philharmonie has been around for some time on the Sky Arts television channel. I also have the CD of Carmina Burana taken from this Gala performance on EMI Classics 5 57888 2. So it’s a concert that I am familiar with and one that I have very much enjoyed.

No problems with the high quality sound and picture quality. Generally the direction is good but I’m not sure about the several discourteous close-ups of Sally Matthews that seem intent on trying to look up her nose and inside her mouth. During viewing there are subtitles of the Latin texts available in English, although, there are no texts or translations in the accompanying booklet. However a short but informative essay by Keith Anderson is included.

Carl Orff’s scenic cantata Carmina Burana from 1936 is one of the best loved choral works with orchestra. The celebrated O Fortuna is universally known from its extensive use on television and radio. The Berlin Philharmonic website gives a fine description of Carmina Burana as a work that Orff, “based on a collection of medieval texts dealing with happiness, intoxication, gluttony, hedonism, love and the inescapable wheel of fortune.” The booklet notes accompanying the DVD state that Carmina Burana is an unusual choice for the Berlin Philharmonic.” I’m not sure that I agree. It’s a work that the Berlin Philharmonic are no strangers to having performed it on several occasions. They made a recording of it with Seiji Ozawa back in 1988 on Philips 422 363-2.

As one would expect from this elite orchestra the playing is out of the top-drawer. The players are so well balanced that it is difficult to single out any particular section for special praise. Well prepared by chorus master Simon Halsey the choirs are enthusiastic and expressive interpreters of the texts. A highlight is the spine-tingling In trutina mentus dubia from the creamy voiced Sally Matthews. The tenor Lawrence Brownlee is in fine voice and gives a creditable if somewhat bland performance. I normally enjoy hearing Christian Gerhaher’s appealing dark timbered baritone; his tendency for R-rolling aside. Sadly the Dies, nox et omnia contains parts that are too high for Gerhaher with excruciating results.

The two short works that opened the concert and the encore are not on the EMI Classics CD. The concert began with Beethoven’s brilliant Leonore Overture No. 3 in C major to the opera Fidelio. It’s given an uplifting performance of buoyancy and vigour. At times there’s an almost swaggering quality to the proceedings.

Handel’s ‘HallelujahChorus from Messiah provides an extravagant choral finale to the concert. This excellent version came about as a result of a commission from Sir Thomas Beecham. Goossens in 1959 provided what is really a re-orchestration rather than a fresh arrangement.

To sum up: there’s an abundance of commitment and exuberance here to seal a marvellous concert.

Robert Benson, December 2010

This 2004 New Year’s Eve concert featured Sir Simon Rattle, soloists, choruses and the Berlin Philharmonic in Orff’s Carmina Burana. The program began with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, and ended with Eugene Goossens’ arrangement (for Sir Thomas Beecham) of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. As Sir Simon said to the audience after the Orff, “what can you do as an encore after Carmina?” He then went on to say we have all these singers on stage, and the ideal work would be the ‘over the top’ arrangement of Hallelujah Chorus. And the audience loved it, with its huge chorus and added percussion and cymbals. Carmina Burana is given a dynamic performance indeed, and the soloists are just fine. As so often happens nowadays, the camera gets too close too often—at one point, during Dulcissime, we have two different views of Sally Matthews’ teeth. Audio is adequate, but rather bass-shy.

John Sunier
Audiophile Audition, October 2010

There have been many different productions of Orff’s humorous, emotional and sometimes bawdy choral-orchestral work, some even turning it into a modern ballet piece (a current production here in Portland paired it with the opera Pagliacci). This one is a straight-ahead concert performance with no gimmicks, but it was a highly unusual choice for the Berlin Philharmonic. It appears the good Germans felt they had to have an excuse for such a wild work, and a big New Year’s Eve blowout such as the Vienna Philharmonic does provided it.

Orff used medieval Latin poems from a late 13th-century manuscript collection, mixed with some French and Bavarian dialect poems of the same period. I should say first off that although I recall viewing a video of the Carmina Burana in the past, and have some familiarity with the work since I played one of the two pianos in it at college, this is the first time I have used the subtitles to spell out in English the interesting lyrics of the work. They added immensely to my appreciation and understanding of the piece—to the point that even if the video performance were not of the super quality of this one, I would prefer enjoying the Carmina Burana on the screen after this. The lyrics effectively reflect the interests and concerns of the average person at this time and place in history. I had thought the manuscripts had come from some type of monks, but there is no mention of monks in the liner notes, and many of the songs have a thoroughly secular slant to them, to say the least.

The DTS surround seems to do about as excellent a job sonically as the more advanced lossless DTS-HD on Blu-rays, and the image quality thruout is excellent. The soloists are especially magnificent: Christian Gerhaher makes us feel empathy with the swan roasting on the spit, and Sally Matthews is transporting in her arias near the end of the work giving herself up to physical love. Orff’s intense dramatic cantata is given the most specific, sharply delineated, and energetic performance I have ever heard from anyone. Rattle and his forces make many of the competing versions sound rather slapdash. Of course, that’s to be expected of the world’s No. 2 top orchestra according to the latest list (the Concertgebouw is No. 1). But Carmina Burana also requires a huge and completely together choral force plus three exceptional soloists. This production has them all in spades.

Rattle talks to the audience about racking his brain to come up with an encore to the Carmina Burana and how he finally chose Eugene Goossens’ over-the-top arrangement for large chorus and large orchestra of “The Hallelujah Chorus.” The notes mention that no one knows why King George II started the tradition of audiences standing up for the piece, but it is surmised that it might have been because he had the gout and was just stretching his legs!

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8:12:52 PM, 28 May 2015
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