London Philharmonic (Mehta) – ‘Orff: Carmina Burana’ A DVD-Audio review by Nigel Pond

Soloists: Sumi Jo (Soprano); Jochen Kowalski (Alto); Boje Skovhus (Baritone)

Among classical music insiders (professional musicians and critics) is not a very popular work, but there is no doubting that this work is very popular among audiences and amateur performers. I sang in an amateur production of Carmina Burana in the late ‘70s and it really is a fun piece to perform.

This recording dates back to 1992 and has previously been released on CD (WEA 74886). Frankly when I first loaded it into my DVD-Audio player and hit play, I thought maybe the CD’s PCM track had made it onto the DVD by mistake. There is almost no action in the surround channels, just very faint ambience effects. The soundstage across the front is well-defined, though, and the soloists and orchestra placed where one would expect them. I could detect no difference between the MLP track and the DD 5.1 track.

The performance itself is pretty good. The soloists are excellent: Sumi Jo dispenses the more operatic soprano solos admirably and Boje Skovhus is outstanding in the sections where he takes on the rфle of the Abbott (‘Ego sum abbas’, track 13). One of my favourite sections of the whole piece is the countertenor solo (‘Olim lacus colueram’, track 12), which is all too often sung by a female alto or male tenor, when it loses its plaintiff quality. Sung as written, by a countertenor, the last words of the roasting swan are much more effective and poignant – and Jochen Kowalski does the job superbly. I was less impressed by the chorus, however. Yes, they sing the words properly and in tune and get the dynamics right, but they just don’t have the bite and clarity of the Atlanta Chorus on the Telarc recording conducted by Robert Shaw (Telarc CD-80056). Maybe it is something to do with placement of the microphones or the mixing but the chorus just does not produce the same spine-tingle as the Telarc disc.

Disc extras are available only when played back on a DVD-A player and include choice of menu language (English, German or French), translations of the original (often bawdy) Middle Latin and low German texts, very short “liner notes” about the piece (those in the accompanying booklet are much more extensive), a biography of Zubin Mehta, excerpts from other Teldec DVD-A titles and production credits.

All-in-all this recording is very competent, but just not as emotionally involving as the Telarc recording, which retains its place in my collection as the reference recording.

MSRP $24.98