Like most popular "classical" works, there is an abundance of recordings to suit all tastes and price ranges. Comments below are from contributors to this FAQ, the 1988 edition of the Penguin guide to recorded music and to the December 1994 edition of "Classic CD" magazine, so if you disagree, please send me your review in defence! Missing information is noted with a double question mark (??).
I am using the following method to identify each recording:
Comment lines follow on from the labeled lines.
O: New Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus
C: Rafael Fruehbeck de Burgos
S: Lucia Popp (soprano); Gerhard Unger (tenor); Raymond Wolansky, John Nole (baritones)
L: EMI CDM764328-2 (ADD)
P: mid price
Classic CD: Tremendously theatrical and full-blooded performance. Recorded sound is immensely powerful and strong, perhaps with an element of overload and roughness.
Penguin: Had the CD remastering been more successful, the (New) Philharmonia version would have been near the top of the list, but it seems as thought the EMI transfer engineers, having failed to enhance Muti's version in its CD format, have tried too hard with this one, and the result is unpleasantly edgy, with the treble response sounding fierce and artificial. This is a great pity for de Burgos gives the kind of performance of Carmina Burana which is ideal for gramophone listening. Where Ozawa favours a straight-forward approach, with plenty of impact in the climaxes, it is the more lyrical pages that Burgos scores with his much greater imagination and obvious affection. This is not to suggest that the Philharmonia account has any lack of vitality. Indeed the sheer gusto of the singing is the more remarkable when on considers the precision from both singers and orchestra alike.
The brass too bring out the rhythmic pungency, which is such a dominating feature of the work, with splendid life and point. Lucia Popp's soprano solo Amor volat is really ravisihing, and Gerhard Unger, the tenor, brings a Lieder-like sensitivity to his lovely singing of his very florid solo in the tavern scene.
Bill Alford writes: I now have this CD and I didn't think greatly of it apart from Lucia Popp's great contribution. There are now quite a few recordings of Carmina Burana useful for comparison.
O: Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
C: Leonard Slatkin
S: Sylvia McNair (soprano); John Aler (tenor); Håkan Hagegård (baritone)
L: RCA 09026-61673-2 (DDD)
P: Full Price
Seriously challenges Previn's 22-year old recording on EMI. Overall focus of sound is a shade too soft, and tends to swim around a little woozily in loud choral passages.
Bill Alford writes: I have this CD and it is certainly far better than Previn's plodding 1970's recording but Slatkin is no match for Blomstedt. If only Blomstedt had this great team of soloists. Håkan Hagegård is probably the best baritone around now for this work and is as good as on his earlier RCA recording but still no match for the best baritone that I have come across in this work of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. The baritone is the soloist who features the most.
O: London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir
C: Zubin Mehta
S: Sumi Jo (soprano); Jochen Kowalski (alto); Boje Skovhus (baritone)
L: Teldec 9031-74886-2 (DDD)
P: Full Price
A frustrating listen. Parts of it are as good as, or better, than the best there is on offer on other discs. The problem is that the choir often sounds thin, and does much less with the words than their more characteristic rivals. Good in parts, but this version doesn't quite add up to a seriously competitive whole.
Bill Alford writes: I now have this CD and apart from the good recording and Sumi Jo's excellent contribution the rest of this performance is average. I don't approve of altos or counter-tenors substituting for a tenor part which Carl Orff deliberately pitched where it is. Altos or counter-tenors when singing naturally are usually baritones and this really shows up in this case as just not right. The liner notes include a colour rendition of the initial performance as opposed to the black and white photo in New Groves.
O: Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
C: Stephen Gunzenhauser
S: Eva Jenisova (soprano); Vladimir Dolezal (tenor); Ivan Kusnjer (baritone)
L: Naxos 8.550196 (DDD)
This is not one of the better Naxos discs. Clear if slightly cavernous sound, a workmanlike if rather dour and unimaginative chorus, and solid if unspectacular conducting. Kusnjer has wavery pitch, Jenisova is slippery on high notes. Packaging is scrappy and no libretto is included.
O: London Symphony Orchestra with St Clement Danes Grammar School Boy's choir
C: André Previn
S: Sheila Armstrong (soprano); Gerald English (tenor); Thomas Allen (baritone)
L: EMI CDC747411-2 (ADD)
P: Full price
Classic CD magazine votes this recording is top. Not everything is ideal. In the early poems, the rhythm is flabby but Previn really starts to kick with later poems with blazing brass and fulsome choral sonorities. A strong team of soloists making the CD hard to beat in years to come.
Penguin: Previn's 1975 analogue version, vividly recorded, still leads the available recorded performances of Orff's most popular work. It is strong on humour and rhythmic point. The chorus sings vigorously, the men often using an aptly rough tone, and if there is at times a lack of absolute precision, the resilience of Previn's rhythms, finely sprung, brings out a strain not just of geniality but of real wit. This is a performance which swaggers along and makes you smile. The recording captures the antiphonal effects impressively, better even in the orchestra than in the chorus. Among the soloists, Thomas Allen's contribution is one of the glories of the music making, and in their lesser roles the soprano and tenor are equally stylish. The digital re-mastering is wholly successful. The choral bite is enhanced, yet the recording retains its full amplitude. The background hiss has been minimised and is only really apparent in the quieter vocal solos in the latter part of the work. A triumphant success.
Bill Alford writes: Previn's version on EMI transferred from an analogue source is not overly impressive. Previn adopts a slowish steady pace all the way through which may add to the diction of the choir but it robs this music of its energy and thrust. I can't agree with Classic CD which is showing its Anglo-centric nature.
O: Deutschen Oper Berlin
C: Eugen Jochum
S: Gundula Janowitz (Soprano), Gerhard Stolze (Tenor), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone)
L: Deutsche Grammophon Galleria 423886-2 (ADD)
P: Mid Price ($A19.95 in December 1994)
Penguin: This recording is highly distinguished, and some might well acquire it for Fischer-Dieskau;s contribution. His singing is refined but not too much so, and his first solo, Omnia sol temperat, and laterDies, nox et omnia are both very beautiful, with the kind of tonal shading that a great Lieder singer can bring. Perhaps Estuans interius needs a heavier voice, but Fischer-Dieskau is suitably gruff in the Abbot's song – so much so that for the moment is unrecognisable. Gerhard tolze too is very stylish in his falsetto Song of the roast swan. The soprano, Gundula Janowitz, finds a quiet dignity for her contribution and this is finely done. The chorus are best when the music blazes, and the closing scene is moulded by Jochum with a wonderful control, almost Klemperian in its restrained power. The snag is that in the quieter music the choral contribution is less immediate.
Bill Alford: Jochum's version leaves the rest behind. Jochum's baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in particular is the best baritone soloist for this work. The sound might be mid 1960's DG analogue but the performance leaves the rest way behind. Jochum's version was recorded in the presence of Carl Orff and is authorised by Carl Orff. DG have also issued a 2-CD box containing both Jochum's recording of Catulli Carmina and Carmina Burana.
O: Philharmonic Choirs and Orchestra
S: Arlene Auger, Jonathan Summers, Van Kesteren
P: HMV CDC7 47100-2/Capitol CAP47100
The digital remastering of Muti's 1980 analogue recording is disappointing. The LP was remarkable for bringing out the fullest weight of bass (timpani and bass drum most spectacular at the opening) but had a balancing brilliance. This seems less obvious on the compact disc, although the orchestra is affected less than the chorus and soloists, who seem to have lost a degree of immediacy. Muti's is a reading which underlines the dramatic contrasts, both of dynamic and of tempo, so the nagging ostinatos are as a rule pressed on at breakneck speed; the result, if at times a little breathless, is always exhilirating. The soloists are first rate: Arleen Augér is wonderfully reposeful in In trutina and Jonathan Summers in his first major recording characterises well. The Philharmonia Chorus is not quite at its most polished, but the Southend Boys are outstandingly fine. This is a performance which may lose something in wit and jollity but is as full of excitement as any available.
O: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
S: Burrows, Devos and John Shirley-Quirk
Penguin: Doráti's 1976 version was originally recorded in Decca's hi-fi conscious Phase 4 system, and the balance is rather close, but the Kingsway Hall ambience helps to spread the sound and the dynamic range is surprisingly wide. The chorus are given plenty of body and impact in the highly successful CD remastering. It is a characteristically vibrant account; Doráti's speeds are generally brisk and the effect is exhilirtingly good-humoured, ith the conductor showing a fine rhythmic sense. The characterisation of the soloists is less sensuous than in some versions, but John Shirley-Quirk's account of the Abbot's song is very dramatic, with the chorus joining in enthusiastically.
Because of Doráti's thrust this is more consistently gripping than Hickox's otherwise first-rate Pickwick account, and if there are moments when the overall ensemble is less than perfectly polished, the feeling of a live performance is engendered throughout, even though this is a studio recording.
O: Cleveland Orchestra
C: Michael Tilson Thomas
No comments available
O: A Vienna Group
C: André Previn
P: Deutsche Grammophon
Bill Alford writes: Live recording of Previn conducting a Vienna group recently released. Previn appears to adopt the usual speeds for a change.
O: London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
C: Richard Hickox
P: Innovative Music Productions Ltf (IMP). (DDD)
P: Budget-priced recording.
Penguin: Richard Hickox, on his brilliantly recorded Pickwick CD, like Prevn uses the combined LSO forces, but adds the Southwen Boy's Choir who make sure we know they understand all about sexual abandon – their 'Oh, oh, oh I am bursting all over' is a joy. Penelope Walsmley-Clark, too, makes a rapturous contribution: her delicious song of uncertainty (betweed modesty and desire) is most tender (with alluring flutes to point the words) and her acount of the girl in the red dress is equally delectable.
The other soloists are good but less individual. The performance takes a little while to warm up (Hickox's tempi tends to be more relaxed than Doráti's), but the chorus rises marvellously to climaxes and is resplendent in the Ave formosissima, while the sharp articulation on consonants when the singers hiss out the words of O Fortuna in the closing section is also a highlight. The vivid orchestral detail revealed by the very bright digital sounds adds an extra dimentsion, with bass drum and percussive transients very telling, while the LPO brass, trumpets and horns especially, playing superbly are brilliantly projected. The documentation provides a vernacular narrative for each band but no translation.
Bill Alford writes: An average performance with nothing special to recommend it. The recording quality could have been better.
O: Philadelphia Orchestra
C: Eugene Ormandy.
S: Harsanyi, Petrak and Presnell
P: Sony Essential Classics.
No comments available
O: Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
C: Robert Shaw.
S: Blegen, Hagegard and Brown
Penguin: Telarc characteristically present exceptionally full and brilliant sound, though hardly more so than the analogue sound given to Previn on HMV. Like Muti, Robert Shaw (for some years Toscanini's choirmaster) prefers speed on the fast side, though his manner is more metrical. In The Court of Love one wants more persuasive treatment, though the choral singing – recorded rather closely in analytical sound – is superb. The soloists are good, but the Atlanta boys cannot quite match their rivals on most European versions. The recorded sound is unflattering to the soloists – notibly the baritone – Håkan Hagegård – although the choral and orchestral sound is certainly spectacular.
Bill Alford writes: This recording was reviewed as too "hi-fi" in spite of the baritone and Robert Shaw's always fine chorus (he's an old hand at this).
O: London Symphony Orchestra
C: Eduardo Mata
S: Hendricks, John Aler, Hagen Hagegard
P: RCA RCD14550
Penguin: Mata's alternative full-priced RCA version is also most convincing as an overall performance and it offers first-class sound. It is a volatile readng, not as metrical in its rhythms as most; this means that at times the LSO chorus is not as clean in ensemble as it is for Previn. The choristers of St Paul's Cathedral sing with perfect purity but are perhaps not boyish enough; though the soloists are first rate (with John Aler coping splendidly, in high refined tones, with the Roast Swan episode). The compact disc has fine warmth of atmosphere and no lack in the lower range. Pianissimo choral detail is not sharply defined, but in all other respects the sound is superb, the background silence adding a great deal, especially when the tension is not as consistently igh as in some versions.
Bill Alford: This is a good early CD recording/performance but Jochum's soloists are better.
O: Chicago Symphony Orchestra
C: James Levine
S: June Anderson, Creech, Weikl
P: Deutsche Grammophon CD 415136-2
Bill Alford: Just a satisfactory performance
O: Boston Symphony Orchestra
C: Seiji Ozawa
S: Manda, Kolk, Milnes
P: RCA GD86533
Penguin: Ozawa's account is one of his very finest records. His rhythmic touch is never too heavy, and this strong, incisive performance brings out the bold simplicity of the score with tingling immediacy, rather than dwelling on its sublety of colour. The soloists, too, are all characterful, especially Sherrill Milnes, whose fine Omnia sol temperat immediately reveals a distinctive voice. The tenor, Stanley Kolk, sounds a little restrained with his Roast Swan, but otherwise the solo singing is always reponsive. Overall this is a highly effective account and the blaze of inspiration of Orff's masterpiece comes over to the listener in the most direct way, when the sound is so well projected, yet without any unnatural edge.
O: San Francisco Orchestra
S: Dawson, Daniecki and McMillan
P: Polydor/Decca POL430509 (DDD)
Has some excellent orchestral playing in an excellent recording for a change but is let down by the soloists when compared to other versions. The chorus is good too.
O: Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra
S: Giebel, Cordes and Quen
P: Capitol C6237 (ADD) Mono
There is a historical recording from the mid 1950's made in Orff's presence in which everybody puts in a lot of effort which is loudly applauded by Carl Orff himself on the last track but the quality of the recording means that we can't really evaluate it against later recordings.
Stokowski also made an early U.S. recording with a Houston group which has been reissued onto EMI CD and it still confirms my initial feelings when I first heard this on LP that it is somewhat amateurish and that Stokowski unusually hasn't got the measure of this work (or his group just wasn't up to it).
O: Unknown orchestra – Probably a London Group
P: EMI CDC754054-2
Bill Alford writes: Unimpressive version uses a counter-tenor(!) for the tenor part and has no reverberation
O: Leipzig Radio Chorus and Symphony Orchestra
S: Casapietra, Hiestermann, Stryczek
On Philips, Herber Kegel secures very fine singing from the superb Leipzig choir, but the lightness of his touch produces some lack of tension in places, in spite of the variety of colour he finds in Orff's score. The very opening of the work, for instance, lacks the last degree of exuberance, and there is certainly a lack of electricity in the closing section of Cour d'amour.
The soloists make a good team, and project well, notably the tenor, Horst Hiestermann. The 1974 recording is of high quality, both natral and vivid in its CD format, but the tape is transferred at too low a level and the choral sound is blunted.
Bill Alford writes: I recall seeing Kegel's complete Trionfi reissued onto Berlin Classics CD.
O: Berlin Symphony Orchestra
S: Sylvia Greenberg, James Bowman, Stephen Roberts
Using the Jesus-Christuskirche (a far more sympathetic Berlin venue for recording than the Philharmonie), Chailly's Decca performance brings outstandingly full and brilliant recording, particularly impressive on CD. The performance is strong and dramatic in a direct, clean-cut way, with fast allegros relatively unpointed and lacking in detail.
Chailly compensates in his expressive treatment of the gentle moments, as in the final section, The Court of Love, in which Sylvia Greenberg's light, bright soprano has a girlish, innocent quality. James Bowman, for all his imagination, misses some of the comedy of the tenor role when, as a counter-tenor, he is singing falsetto all the time, instead of simply as a tenor's strainful expedient, which is what Orff intended. Stephen Roberts, another excellent singer, is also miscast, too gritty and too thin of tone for the baritone role.
O: Halle Orchestra
C: Maurice Handford
The CfP version is a modern recording, notable for its excellent soloists with Sheila Armstrong coming close to matching her supremely, lovely performance for Previn. The men of the Hallé choir provide some rough singing at times, but the women are much better, and the performance gathers energy and incisiveness as it proceeds, although there is some fall-off in tension at the very end.
Clemencic Consort on Harmonia Mundi HMA 190'336.38, 3 CD set: This is the original, complete Carmina Burana as Schmeller edited the manuscripts.
Harmonia Mundi 901323 Ensemble Organum, directed by Marcel Peres 8/90 Soloists: FAUCHE/BENET/CABRE/MAUGARD
New London Consort. L'Oiseau-Lyre. Directed by Philip Pickett. 4 CDs.
Last Updated: 23rd June 1995