In the final months of peace before the Second World War, Carl Orff used the Grimm fairy-tale 'Der Mond' (The Moon) as the basis for a rumbustious entertainment employing male soloists, choir, a small woodwind section and a whole battery of percussion instruments. The procedures are similar to those in his best known works 'Carmina Burana' and (especially) the 'Catulli Carmina': strongly accented motoric rhythms, repeated words and phrases, and often very taxing vocal parts, notably for the high tenor.
The absence of an English libretto (apparently true for the CD version as well) creates problems for those who have no German, and may be a disincentive that outweighs the bargain basement price. However, the Grimm text on which Orff has based his libretto is available online in English translation and one can follow the action using this as a guide. High points in the story are:
1. The merriment that follows the arrival of the Moon, stolen by four rogues, and now hung up on a tree to light up the night for the whole village: a real Bavarian knees up (only the steins are missing);
2. The cutting up of the moon as each of the rogues takes his share off to the underworld when he dies - shouts of dismay as the shears do their work;
3. The rogues living it up in Hell, when their moon, now pieced together, wakes them up.They play dice, get drunk, shout, argue and even threaten the peace of Heaven itself;
4. St Peter's thunderbolt, and the restoration of the Moon to its proper abode in the sky. A boy asks his father what the light is in the sky, and is told it is the Moon.
There are moments of great tenderness, reminding us that contrary to the general impression, Carl Orff saw himself primarily as a lyrical composer.
This re-issued recording demonstrates the many special effects that Orff has requested: the thunderbolt (electronically produced), and the multitudinous 'phones, rattles, and various types of drum, that all add piquancy to the spare orchestration of the piece. The soloists, leading singers of their day, sharply characterise their roles.
If you like 'Burana' and 'Carmina, you will certainly like this one.
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