5 Best Recordings Of Carmina Burana

Best Recordings Of Carmina Burana
Best Recordings Of Carmina Burana

Best Recordings Of Carmina Burana

Personal taste is a considerable factor when deciding what best might sound like for any recording. You may be inclined towards the Berlin Philharmonic or the London Symphony Orchestra, but then with which conductor, chorus and soloists?

Countless options and variations exist. Below are a few options that might be of interest, familiar or even deeply unpopular. The choice is yours.

Carl Orff composed ‘Carmina Burana’ (Songs of Beuren), between 1935 and 1936. It is the setting of various medieval texts that was first published in Germany around 1847.

The work is formed into three sections, ‘Springtime’, ‘In The Tavern’, and ‘The Court of Love’. Orff placed a song to Fortune at the start and the ending of the work.

1. New Philharmonic Chorus & Orchestra Conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

This recording was made in 1966 then remastered and re-released in 2001. For many, the remastering process has reduced the appeal of the original recording, but for others, it remains one of the most intense and powerful renditions of the work.

There is a good balance between the bawdy and lyrical in this recording even if the higher frequencies can sound fragile in the remastered version. Burgos keeps the climactic moments large without overplaying the dynamic or pushing the performers to uncomfortable limits.

There is vitality in the performance and the chorus deliver the text with unabated passion and precision. Equally the orchestral playing is detailed with the brass section brilliantly acquitting themselves.

2. London Symphony Orchestra with St Clement Danes Grammar School Boys’ choir Conducted by André Previn

This popular account of ‘Carmina Burana’ dates from 1975. CD Magazine, a go-to resource for many collectors of Classical music, rated this at the top of their list.

Another selling factor in this recording is not only that is performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, but that the soloists are each outstanding.

They are Sheila Armstrong (soprano), Gerald English (tenor), and the now-legendary Thomas Allen (baritone). Each delivers performances with panache.

Rhythmically Previn drives the music forward impressively and with the essential sense of humour. Sometimes there seems to be a slightly slower than expected tempo but this brings with it the bluster and boasting of some of the songs.

It also helps the chorus deliver their lines with clarity and precision which is lacking in other recordings.

3. Deutsche Oper Berlin conducted by Eugen Jochum

For many people, including notable critics, this 1967 recording has never been bettered. What also makes this version compelling is the fact that Carl Orff was present during the recording and gave his approval of the performance. This must count for something.

The powerful sections of this performance are incandescently contrasting with the softer moodier songs rather well. Even though the original recording suffers slightly from its age, the sheer majesty and command of the score under Jochum’s baton make this a very attractive record.

You may find that the impact of the whole performance is subdued especially in respect of the choirs but there is some speculation that Orff preferred the balance to be this way round.

In a similar way to Thomas Allen in the previous recording, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s performance as solo baritone is simply magical.

Such is his mastery of the role that he meticulously alters the timbre of his voice for the character of each song. Listen to ‘The Abbot’s Song’ for a fine example of Dieskau’s prowess.

On balance, it is challenging to find a better recording of the ‘Carmina Burana’. Even if you do not find the potency of the performance persuasive, listen through the whole recording and you may change your mind.

4. Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin conducted by Christian Thielemann  with The Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin

A more recent recording from 1999, and one that according to a review in ‘Gramophone Magazine’, is one not to miss. What you might have already spotted is that this acclaimed recording makes full use of the same forces as the earlier Jochum recording.

It is perhaps no coincidence that this performance is equally thrilling. The entire performance is vibrant and full. Tempi are brisk without the loss of diction from the soloists and chorus that brings an intensity to the faster sections.

All the details are beautifully balanced and defined throughout the recording although similarly to the Jochum performance, the chorus does appear quite far away in the mix.

Each of the solo performers in this rendition is exemplary. Many of the solos are very challenging to sing with some fairly extreme demands made of both tenor and baritone roles.

I would agree strongly with Gramophone when they praise the performance of the baritone Simon Keenlyside as being “fresh, clear and characterful”. And it is the word ‘fresh’ that rings true for me and this recording.

When performing a very popular and well-known work it is extremely challenging to present it with a freshness that does not sound contrived. This recording succeeds for me in every aspect and would make a great addition to a collection.

5. Berlin Radio Choir, Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Sir Simon Rattle

Often parallels are drawn between this recording and a much earlier one in 1974 by Tilson Thomas. If nothing else, both are individual readings of the score and both are highly successful.

Sir Simon Rattle teases out a stunning performance from the Berlin musicians. He seems to achieve a sublime blend of the deliciously vulgar and the rollickingly humorous.

There is significant attention to details in the playing and vocal deliveries without compromising the overall brilliance. This is particularly true for the brass section (particularly lower brass), who in this recording gives an electric performance that’s edgy and incisive.

Rattle sets some lively tempos for some sections that have an unrelenting rhythmic pulse held together by robust percussion playing just where it is required.

Dynamic balance and textural finetuning are never overlooked bringing out every fine nuance of Orff’s score. Each of the soloists gives convincing performances making this more modern recording one to seriously listen to.

3 thoughts on “5 Best Recordings Of Carmina Burana”

  1. I have a version by The London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Hickox recorded in 1986, on IMP Classics.
    I have listened to the above recommendations and they do not compete in any respect with this recording of Carmina Burana.
    I refute quite a lot of recommendations given on Classical music websites.
    The above would be included in that refutal.

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