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Chris Waddington
The Times-Picayune (, May 2009

Alsop amazes with bargain ‘Carmina’ CD: Fans of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra squeezed into Touro Synagogue last week for two sold-out performances of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana. ” If you missed the concerts—or want to revive memories of the orchestra’s season-capping triumph—you’ll need to turn to recordings. One of the best accounts happens to be a bargain-priced 2007 release from Naxos . Conductor Marin Alsop leads the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in a “Carmina ” that delivers plenty of speaker-straining thunder, but is equally notable for its dance rhythms and translucent sound. Here Orff’s churning orchestral passages and craggy choral parts never obscure the soaring of three seasoned soloists: soprano Claire Rutter, tenor Tom Randle and baritone Markus Eiche. Alsop’s reading—full of pulsing ostinatos and richly colored percussion—reminds one that she has earned plaudits for her recordings of John Adams, Philip Glass and other contemporary minimalists. She makes Orff’s 1936 showpiece seem a wonderful precursor.

Penguin Guide, January 2009

Marin Alsop also conducts a fine, distinctive reading of Carl Orff’s most popular work, brilliantly recorded. The recording heightens the impact of the reading with its exceptionally wide dynamic range, so that pianissimos are hushed and intimate, set against great choral outbursts, with the Bournemouth Chorus and the Youth Choirs providing a powerful mainstay to the whole performance. Much the most important of the soloists is the baritone, here the dark, cleanly focused Markus Eiche, a great strength, while the tenor, Tom Randle, gives a delightful characterization is falsetto for the roast swan sequence, and Claire Rutter sings with perfect purity in the radiant soprano solos in the final section. A top bargain recommendation.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, November 2007

The world is not short of recommendable recordings of Carmina Burana even at budget price, which means that Naxos’s entrant has high standards to maintain. And in many respects it does. The engineering is generally first class and the performers—all of them—are caught with immediacy. The incisive men’s voices are finely calibrated, and the brass cuts through splendidly in Fortune plango vulnera, though here the lower strings do sound just a touch muddy. Ecce gratum ends I Primo vere with rousing declamation and when Alsop needs to bring out the heavy guns, as here, they are duly brought out. The girls and women sing graciously in Chramer, gip die varwe mir augmenting the fine orchestral contribution here and elsewhere. They’re attentive in the quieter passages especially and the brass and percussion sections prove strong and assertive in Uf dem anger—with a particularly combustible conclusion to the section. Major responsibilities fall on the soloists. Baritone Markus Eiche is bluffly convincing, full of well-characterised vocalism; the voice is excellently scaled and malleable within its compass. If one has criticisms they centre on the unconvincing head voice in Dies, nox et omnia. Tenor Tom Randle’s delivery is idiosyncratic and won’t be to all tastes; best to sample his way with In Taberna. Of course the tenor is pushed high and sometimes punishingly so but higher up his voice has a strange kind of “halo” around it. Which leaves the soprano Claire Rutter, whose opening statements in the third section Cour d’amours are most impressive—she floats Stetit puella very nicely indeed.

J. F. Weber
Fanfare, July 2007

Alsop has complete control of her forces and a conception that matches the best traditional approaches to the work, as the total timing suggests. The soprano soloist, admittedly the easiest role to cast, is fully equal to her peers. The enunciation of the texts is consistently fine. For the most part this is a match for many discs that cost twice as much.

…for most of its course, this is a superb unfolding of an enduringly popular modern work. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

Emma Baker
Classic FM, May 2007

There are few works that polarise opinion as much as Carl Orff’s dramatic oratorio Carmina Burana .This theatrical, melodic, arcane and outrageous work was an instant hit after its first performance in 1937 and made Orff a household name. The work’s percussive, driving, black-and-white minimalism and catchy melodies make it instantly accessible.

Yet the work has its detractors too—for its populism, for its bawdy, in some cases obscene content, and for its anti-religious, anti-Romantic, almost pagan subtext. It’s not concerned with heaven and the afterlife, but the here and now. The message is, enjoy your youth and vigour while you can, for it takes only a half-turn of Fortune’s wheel to bring you down. One of Orff’sobvious musical influences is Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and Orff’s clever scoring for woodwind pays homage to the Russian composer’s style.

The Carmina Burana is a 13th-century collection of secular poems, written in medieval Latin, French and German, sometimes using all three languages in one verse (what’s called ‘macaronic’). Orff reported that he’d found a book containing the manuscript in a second-hand bookshop in 1934 and decided to set the text to music. It’s full of cheeky 13th-century lyrics such as ‘Look at me, young men, let me pleasure you’ and ‘I would give up all the world to have the Queen of England lie in my arms’.

Although it’s often performed these days as a straight oratorio, Orff conceived it as part of his idea of ‘total theatre’—as a staged opera-ballet. And it certainly is pure theatre, from the portentous opening chorus, ‘O Fortuna’, which both praises and laments the vagaries of fortune, ‘like the moon, changeable, always waxing or waning’. This chorus—in a very satisfying circular fashion—also closes the work. In between are three sections: ‘On the Green’, praising the boisterous joys of spring: ‘In the Tavern’ extolling the pleasures of drink (including a blackly comic lament sung by a roasting swan); and ‘The Court of Love’ an unfettered celebration of the pleasures of the flesh.

In a market awash with recordings of this popular work, a new version has to be pretty special. And American conductor Marin Alsop and her Bournemouth orchestra, chorus and soloists have produced just that. Alsop avoids sentimentalising the music and directs her vast forces to bring a driving, forward momentum to the music, always ratcheting up the tension and keeping the excitement going—this performance pulses with life. Listen to the explosive chanting of ‘O Fortuna’, after the opening whispered section, where the timpani line is particularly clear and audible—it’s a visceral, thrilling effect. The three soloists are excellent. Tenor David Randall is deliciously morose in ‘The Roast Swan Sings’, with its excruciatingly high tessitura. Baritone Markus Eiche is full of commanding swagger during ‘In the tavern’, but also sufficently tender in ‘The Court of Love’. And Claire Rutter is ideal for the soprano’s delicate music that floats over tender, woodwind-based scoring. Her voice is warm and rich in its lower register, especially in what is probably the second-best-known part of the work, the tender ‘In trutina’, and suitably effortless for her ecstatic, climactic coloratura outburst ‘Dulcissime’.

It’s a tough and demanding sing for the chorus, and the members of the Bournemouth Symphony Choir tackle their music with passion and energy, crisp ensemble and excellent diction. Perhaps during the higher-lying passages, such as those in ‘Floret silva’, the tuning can sound a little strained, but there’s no mistaking the commitment and energy the singers bring to the music. The young singers of the excellent children’s choruses are obviously enjoying themselves during the boisterous ‘Tempus est iocundum’.

The recorded sound is superb—extremely clear and well balanced. The glittering percussion section, which plays such an important part in the work, is recorded to the fore, but not excessively so, and the balance between voices and instruments is crisp and spacious. This recording—at budget price is a must-have for any collection.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2007

High on impact and colour, Carl Orff’s setting of bawdy, sexy and humorous texts has given record companies for the past fifty years the chance to show off their latest recording technology. This new arrival follows in the familiar path of hard-hitting up-front sound that pulls no punches, the engineers achieving wonderfully sharp definition and inner detail. The performance has the advantage of a Bournemouth chorus that has the earthy quality appropriate for the German texts from the Middle Ages. The sopranos are particularly good, intonation on the very high passages unfailingly accurate. Thankfully Marin Alsop has not meddled with the orchestration as we have heard in one highly acclaimed version, and I like her handling of the quiet choral sections which can come dangerously near to stagnation. The German baritone, Markus Eiche, takes a very free approach to rhythm in his solos, extracting every double meaning as he relishes the coming of spring. A lyric rather than pungent approach that for the high passages in Dies, nox et omnia goes into falsetto, though elsewhere singing everything off the chest. Tom Randle is superb in the last song of the swan, singers usually so intent on the high tessitura they forget to capture the sadness. In Claire Rutter we have a voice of innocence that the role requires for Stetit puella,and there is a nice and happy sounding children’s chorus balanced without spotlighting. The orchestra brass and percussion relish the outbursts, the lower strings unusually warm and fulsome. Maybe the engineers just missed tweaking up the brass at one point towards the end, but otherwise this is a fine piece of sound manipulation. The booklet includes words and translation.

Tim Smith
The Baltimore Sun, January 2007

Nothing is likely to diminish the popularity of Orff’s cantata. Some terribly sophisticated musicians have been known to dismiss it because it doesn’t sound, well, terribly sophisticated. Others hear the perfectly coordinated stomp of Nazi boots in it, simply because it made its premiere in Frankfurt in 1937 (Orff was no Third Reich toady). But most folks just surrender willingly to Carmina Burana, its celebration of pagan sensuality and medieval tension-release (the texts come from a 13th-century collection of anonymous Middle Ages poets and songsters), its simple tunefulness and bluntness.

Alsop, who invariably shines in music filled with rhythmic assertiveness and living-color instrumentation, taps into the earthy jolt of the well-worn score, keeping things taut and crisp. There’s a nice bite to the aggressive passages, an unfussy lyricism to the sweeter ones.

The choral and orchestral forces of the Bournemouth Symphony respond impressively, nowhere more so than in the last movement of the “On the Green” section—55 particularly incendiary seconds. Alsop has the men’s voices building up terrific steam at the end of the “In the Tavern” section, and she likewise generates considerable propulsion in the orchestra-only “Round Dance.”

A touch more snap and drive would be welcome in a few places, as in the recurring outbursts from the orchestra in “Wounded by Fortune,” and the cantata’s finale, which is nearly anticlimactic, missing the last ounce of exultation and abandon. But the performance clicks nonetheless, and also delivers a sizable sonic impact.

Of the soloists, baritone Markus Eiche is unfailingly expressive, giving words a lot of character, though his voice doesn’t open up easily at the top end. Tom Randle tackles the single, thankless tenor aria—the lament of a slowly roasting swan—more or less effectively. Long-breathed soprano Claire Rutter does thoroughly enchanting work in “The Court of Love” section, though upper register constriction keeps her final solo from reaching an ethereal state.

Orff’s celebration of medieval revels is already heavily represented on disc, but there should be room for one more, especially one this full of life.

Blair Sanderson, January 2007

One of the most popular of modern choral works, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana has found its way into many collections just on the strength of its foreboding opening, “O Fortuna.” Because this work is well represented in all the major labels’ catalogs, one has a wide array of performances to choose from; while several are excellent, it is difficult to say one recording is ranked above the rest. Still, there are plenty of reasons to try Marin Alsop’s 2006 Naxos recording with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, mostly because of its fantastic sound quality and amazingly defined details. All of the Latin and German texts are enunciated crisply by the soloists and chorus, and the orchestra plays with extraordinary precision; even the tracks are clearly separated, to allow for full resonance at the end of sections and to make the performance seem as neat as possible. This fastidious recording may not have the most imposing opening (unless the volume is turned up really high), so listeners who crave a thunderous “O Fortuna” should look elsewhere, because Alsop’s emphasis on verbal clarity makes it a little less than explosive. However, this is a good recording for studying the work, and this bright, energetic performance holds up well on repeated listening. The vocal solos by baritone Markus Eiche and tenor Tom Randle are appropriately comical and entertaining, but soprano Claire Rutter’s singing in Stetit puella and In trutina is beautiful in tone and expression, and well-suited to the most affecting moments of this cantata. Naxos’ reproduction captures everything, though there are isolated moments where it seems an extra microphone could have made the ensemble sound a little fuller.

Giv Cornfield, Ph.D.
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, January 2007

Long near the top of the classical Hit Parade, each new recording of this rousing masterpiece of medieval music in “modern” garb is always welcome. This is especially true of this up-to-date, all digital and exciting version. Maestra Alsop has firm control of the vast array of forces under her command, and delivers a powerful and beautiful performance.

Scott Paulin
Barnes & Noble, January 2007

The success of a performance of Carmina Burana often depends on qualities quite different from most classical music: sheer volume, for instance, and the force with which Orff’s barbaric rhythms are felt in the listener’s own body. Marin Alsop’s new recording of the work meets these requirements but offers much else besides. One telling touch is the spacious resonance of the recording venue; it’s a concert hall, yet the way the music hangs in the air makes it sound like a Gothic cathedral, enhancing the appeal of Orff’s archaic medievalism. Naturally, that’s especially evident in the big climaxes of the piece, nowhere more than in the familiar “O Fortuna” chorus that opens and closes the cycle. But Alsop and her musicians in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus make the music’s contrasting, more delicate moments just as persuasive, revealing the transparency of Orff’s careful orchestration in certain passages, especially the early stages of the “Court of Love” section. Of the three soloists, soprano Claire Rutter is a special standout, her pure tone a perfect fit for the lyrical sentiments of “Stetit puella” and “In trutina,” while Markus Eiche bellows his way through the blustery baritone solos of “Ego sum abbas” and “Circa mea pectora” in a forceful style that’s also totally appropriate to Orff’s dynamic music. Alsop is clearly having a lot of fun as she leads her forces here—another absolute requirement for a successful performance of Carmina Burana—making this a highly satisfying option among the many recordings of this crowd-pleasing work.

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