ORFF: Carmina Burana

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

James Zychowicz

image_description=Carl Orff: Carmina Burana
product_title=Carl Orff: Carmina Burana.
product_by=Claire Rutter, soprano, Tom Randle, tenor, Markus Eiche, baritone, Highcliffe Junior Choir, Bournemouth Symphony Youth Chorus, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Marin Alsop, conductor.
product_id=Naxos 8.570033 [CD]