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This performance is 5-star quality and I have no problems with the sound-quality either, but I'm simply not prepared to give 5 stars to a full-price production of Carmina Burana that does not include the words of the poems. If you just listen to this as music, you would have no way at all of telling what they are singing about. The poem about bemoaning the wounds of fortune is set to loud music and the poem about the happy face of spring to soft music. This music does not 'express' its texts in any way, it only accompanies them, vivid though it undoubtedly is. The whole point of Carmina Burana, whether this was what the composer intended or not, is the words and not primarily the music. It would be more than unfair to compare either to bierkeller ballads or to rugby-club ditties, but the difference is still a question of quality not of type. These are popular verses, above average in originality and general interest but popular nonetheless, and what Orff has done is to provide them with musical settings that are original, striking, and strong and immediate in their impact, but really no more on an equal footing with the poems than the music to The Ball of Kirriemuir (in any of its versions) is on any equal footing with that.
For newcomers, 21 poems and two dance-interludes are enclosed, as if between book-ends, by a fatalistic poem about our general helplessness in the face of fate or fortune. The 13th-century poems are on standard students'-union themes of love and general indulgence, particularly the familiar erotic imagery of love's awakening in springtime. The overall message is an expanded version of Gaudeamus Igitur. The poems are not unduly explicit - I have some very much ruder ones by Dowland and Purcell - and although they were first discovered in a monastery at the start of the 19th century they are strictly pagan in their expression, with none of the religious/erotic sentiment that constitutes another tradition and is found even as late as, say, Handel's cantata Silete Venti. What the 'love-in-the-springtime' numbers recall to me is an earlier Latin poem the Pervigilium Veneris (Love's Vigil), and nearly all the verses here are in Latin with a little early German and some proto-French. The music is aggressively simple with no counterpoint, thematic development or elaborate harmony, but it is a world away from the modern minimalist school of incessant repetition. The orchestration is garish and probably Mahler-influenced, but very few composers after Brahms escaped his long shadow totally and I'm quite sure I hear his Liebeslieder here and there.
One does not go wrong with Dorati, I find. He is dependable without being dull and exciting without being exhibitionist. Soloists and chorus are excellent, and a word should be put in particularly for the fine Southend Boys' Choir whom I have also heard recently in Sinopoli's great account of Mahler VIII. The recorded sound is fine and the RPO are on good form. There is a charming liner-note by John Berendt, all about himself and nothing about the music still less the poems. I still can't forgive the omission of these, because if this work means anything to you other than background-music there is no way of doing without them, and unless your Latin is good enough you need a translation as well. I have the words, my Latin is good enough but I have a translation anyway, and the disc is thoroughly recommendable in its own right.
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