Orff
Trionfi – Trittico teatrale

Carmina Burana

Elfride Trötschel (soprano)
Paul Kuen (tenor)
Hans Braun (baritone)

(Recorded in Munich in October 1952)


Catulli Carmina

Annelies Kupper (soprano)
Richard Holm (tenor)

(Recorded in Munich in June 1954 & November 1955)


Trionfo di Afrodite

Annelies Kupper (soprano)
Elisabeth Lindermeier (soprano)
Elisabeth Wiese-Lange (soprano)
Richard Holm (tenor)
Ratko Delorko (tenor)
Kurt Böhme (bass)

(Recorded in Munich in July 1955)

Bavarian Radio Symphony Chorus
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Eugen Jochum
CD No: DG 474 131-2 (2 CDs)
Duration:
Reviewed: July 2003
“With Carmina Burana my collected works begin” wrote Carl Orff to his publisher following the premiere of what turned out to be one of the most popular choral works of all time. Fortunate as this may have been in some ways, the success of this one work has, rather cruelly, ensured that, for many music-lovers and record collectors, Orff’s works begin and end with Carmina Burana.
They may not be aware, for instance, that Carmina Burana is a stage piece and forms the first part of a theatrical triptych, or that Orff went on to compose some extraordinarily powerful works such as the settings of the Greek tragedies Antogonae, Oedipus der Tyran and Prometheus – the last using the original Greek language (the first two in German translations). His final stage work – the vast majority of Orff’s pieces were conceived in theatrical terms – was a dramatisation and meditation on the end of time, De Temporum Fine Comoedia, given a Salzburg first production under Karajan in 1973. These works have failed to establish a place in the repertory and most have not been staged in Britain.
This DG re-issue affords a welcome opportunity to move beyond the confines of Carmina Burana and to experience the work in the context for which it was conceived. None of these recordings has been on CD before, and these performances of Carmina Burana and Catulli Carmina are not to be confused with Eugen Jochum’s later recorded versions, also on DG, dating from 1967 and 1970 respectively.
These 1950s’ mono recordings, welcome as they are, inevitably now fall firmly into the ’historic’ category, but, at a modest price, are well worth acquiring for anyone curious enough to investigate Orff beyond Carmina Burana, and also to sample Jochum at work in repertory which might appear unusual for him, familiar as he is on disc for his Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Haydn and other more staple fare.
Jochum’s familiar 1967 recording, now on DG Originals, bears the ’authorisation’ of the composer, but Orff was also present at these earlier sessions and the interpretation is by no means overshadowed by its better-known successor. Of course one misses the amplitude provided by the more modern recording and the rather more weightier approach to tempi, but the 1952 performance has a validity of its own, with a welcome sense of urgency, even frenzy in some of the big choruses. Offset against this is a touching sense of vulnerability in the gentler moments (and there are more of these than might be supposed), with Elfride Trötschel proving a most affecting and expressive soprano.
Hans Braun, however, great as he was as a powerful Wagnerian, does not have the necessary flexibility Orff’s writing demands. Indeed, he rather trips over his words in his passionate ’Estuans interius’, completely ducking the final high A, replacing it with an unconvincing squawk. Paul Kuen, though, is a complete success in the treacherously difficult ’roasted swan’ solo, managing to sound simultaneously grotesque and scared. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Chorus is fervent and communicative in its delivery, although there are moments when strain is evident, and individual voices protruding from time to time in none too attractive a way.
Taken as a whole, however, this is a thoroughly rewarding reading which treats Carmina Burana seriously and not as a mere sonic spectacular which, alas, has been the case all too often with some more recent issues, even those with supposedly distinguished pedigrees.
In terms of musical style, Catulli Carmina, dating from 1943, comes as something of a shock. Unaccompanied settings of Catullus poems are framed by a prologue and epilogue with the accompaniment pared down to four pianos and percussion which, to be sure, recalls the sonority of Stravinsky’s Les Noces to a certain extent.
Whiplash accents and relentless rhythmic figures characterise these sections, which feature a group of young men and women calling epithets of sexual desire to one another. Their passion is mocked by a chorus of cynical old men who ’present’ the story of Catullus and his hopeless infatuation with Lesbia to them, by way of teaching the young people the folly of their ways. To no avail! Youth renews its libidinal call unheedingly.
In this performance, the prologue and epilogue have a wild, uninhibited quality that is most exciting. Choral singing is secure, and Jochum propels the music along relentlessly. Perhaps in deference to the sensibilities of the time, the text’s (the composer’s own) reference to the male sexual organ is replaced by a less explicit referral to ’breasts’! In the a cappella settings of Catullus, however, the choral singing is less confident, with some obtrusive vibratos and less than accurate tuning at times. This is fatal in music where absolute security of pitch is vital. This section was recorded at separate sessions, which may possibly account for some of the difficulties. The recording itself here is less than helpful, with occasional moments of distortion. The soloists are fine and responsive, with Richard Holm especially effective in his multi-faceted part.
Holm and Annelies Kupper return as Bride and Bridegroom in the final part of the trilogy – Trionfo di Afrodite (1953). Here, the music reflects the shift in Orff’s method of setting ancient texts. Poems in Greek and Latin form a scenario celebrating the wedding of a nameless couple. A full orchestra is employed again, but with a more ascerbic sound than was the case in Carmina Burana, with pianos and a large percussion section remaining prominent.
A melismatic approach to texts characterises the writing for soloists, and there is no weakness in this regard. Indeed, Elisabeth Lindermeier and Ratko Delorko are positively beguiling in the opening invocation to the evening star. Kupper and Holm really convince in their duets, although their second should take place off-stage, and the singers are not distanced in this recording. Furthermore, the culminating top E for the soprano is avoided by Kupper, as it is by nearly all competitors on disc, with the exception of the remarkable Isabella Nawe, under Herbert Kegel on Berlin Classics.
Once again, Eugen Jochum has the measure of this elusive music, driving with force when necessary, and relaxing when required. The chorus here is supremely assured in what is extremely taxing music to sing.
There are a few other complete Trionfi sets available. That conducted by Herbert Kegel, referred to above, is probably the most convincing overall, and a more modern-sounding version led by Franz Welser-Möst on EMI is a reliable proposition.
But anyone attracted to the present release will have their curiosity satisfied, although it is disappointing to have to report the absence of texts, let alone translations, which will render the latter parts of the triptych, in particular, unintelligible to all except those already initiated into the fascinating, provocative and rewarding sound world of Carl Orff.

 

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