1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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The excellent liner notes aptly recall how new to the American public Orff's Carmina Burana still was when this recording was made in 1958: its US premiere had taken place only four years earlier, in January 1954, in San Francisco (Stokowski giving the New York premiere at the end of the same year), and (although the composition dated from over 20 years back) the liner notes to the original LP referred to "this superb and stimulating new score by a contemporary master whose name is all but unknown on this side of the Atlantic".
Stokowski's Carmina Burana is generally a good one, its choral and orchestral parts usually conducted with great power and drive, and a fine sense of dance. "Chramer, gip die varwe mir" (Shopkeeper, give me color, track 8) is wonderfully and lovingly shaped, sounding like a soft and sweet lullaby, and the Mahler-Knaben Wunderhorn overtones of the ensuing number, "Reie", have never sounded so obvious. Stokowski is very theatrical in his conducting, sometimes too much so even - witness the wailing tone he demands of his baritone in "Dies, nox et omnia" (track 16) - not entirely out of situation ("Day night and everything is against me, the chattering of maidens makes me weep...") but pushed here to limits verging on campiness. The 1958 sound is also stupendous, full dimensional indeed, with overall more body, depth, presence than the classic Jochum from 10 years later (Orff: Carmina Burana) - although with some audible tape hiss in the softer passages(and some occasional rumbles of cars at a distance).
Yet there are a few significant drawbacks that prevent Stokowski's recording from belonging to the top drawer. First, the impossibly American accent of the Houston Chorale in the Latin text, with tenor Clyde Hager not much better. Track 14, "In taberna quando sumus" ("when we're at the pub", in modernized English), for male chorus, sounds like Broadway - really: you've got to listen carefully to realize that they are not singing a mock American lingo, but Latin. It's not just a question of being a purist: the liquid "r"s and the diphthongs rob the music of much of its snap and angularity. Clyde Hager's delivery is at its worst in track 16 "Dies, nox et omnia" (and to know why the tenor is singing in the aria for baritone, see anon), where he even manages to botch the rhymes, not pronouncing the terminating syllables of each verse in the same manner.
Second, Stokowski practices indefensible and far from occasional cuts: the second out of three strophes in track 4, "Omnia Sol temperat" for solo baritone, and the same in the ensuing chorus, "Ecce gratum". Same thing with the second stanza in the tenor aria "Olim lacus colueram" (track 12), with the baritone aria "Dies, nox et omnia" (track 16) and with the baritone and chorus aria "circa mea pectoral" (track 18). Small variation: it is the fourth out of the five stanzas in track 11, the baritone aria "Estuans interus", that is cut. True, Orff's writing is most of the times simplistically repetitive, the music of each stanza exactly repeating the previous one. But that repetitive simplicity is part of the music's concept and should have been respected. Also, the cuts make the text senseless. You might wonder why track 14 is titled "In taberna quando sumus" (when we're at the pubà since Stokowski cuts that first stanza altogether, starting with a line as gratuitous as "some gamble, some drink, some behave loosely".
Third, the soloists. It's a mixed bag. I've mentioned Clyde Hager's impossibly American accent, but other than that he is fine vocally: in his big aria "Olim lacus colueram" (track 12), I don't know if it is tenor or a raucous, gospel-like soprano that is singing - which is exactly how it should be (it is a tenor singing in falsetto to convey the sense of the wracking pains suffered by the swan roasting on the spit). But truth is, he doesn't quite find the same kind of bitter and nasty nuance as Gerhard Stolze with Jochum. Likewise Guy Gardner is OK but doesn't nearly have the subtlety of expression and timbre of Fischer-Dieskau with Jochum; his "Estuans interius" ("Burning inside with violent anger", track 11) literally plods compared to Fischer-Dieskau's and Jochum's and the coda of his "Ego sum abbas", track 13, "Wafna!" (Woe) is underpowered and civilized compared to others I've heard. Then, in his big Aria "Dies, nox et omnia" (track 16), he simply does not sing those unique falsetto lines written by Orff - leaving them instead to his colleague tenor Clyde Hager (who, as mentioned, botches the pronunciation to boot). Likewise, of Virginia Babikian I can say no better than that she is "OK", even quite moving in "In Trutina" (track 21) which has never sounded so close to Puccini, - and she certainly has the high, stellar notes of "Dulcissime" (track 23), but in truth, compared to Gundula Janowitz' (with Jochum again) uniquely angelic and girlish soprano timbre, she sounds somewhat matronly, more like a large dramatic soprano of the Vishnevskaia-type. And another irritating case of Stokowski tampering with score, she is attributed the line of the boys' chorus in track 22 "Tempus est iocundum" - it simply doesn't have the same character.
Detailed production info (the microphones used in the recording sessions are indicated - the kind of useless info that collectors simply love to have) but the texts are unfortunately not provided. Ultimately then, this is a version for the Stokowskite more than for the Orff aficionado.
I'll return to this review for a short comment on Stravinsky.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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There's more than one reason that I don't give this recording 5 stars; the first being the Houston Symphony Chorale. It is a fine amateur group for the time, but they really don't have the sort of sound that would make this the grand performance it should be. "Carmina Burana" requires a super-chorus to be first class, and this sounds at best like a good college glee club. However, they do sing in tune most of the time and the accents are not Texan! The over all performance is one of real interest. Right from the opening where Stokowski cuts short the ends of the opening phrases in the chorus, you know the conductor is special. The Houston Symphony is actually in better form than is the Berlin Philharmonic, also on this recording; (more on that in a moment.) and is particularly fine and up to the task. For 1958 the original engineers manage a first class recording although the choice of mics, which is mentioned in the booklet, is a bit on the old side of the fence. There were newer mics available at that point, such as the Neumann M50 which would have given a much richer sound to the entire Houston recording. It is interesting that this is one of the first 3 track stereo recordings, and the remastering is excellent too. While not as lush as a version with a major chorus, this has plenty to offer, and the soloists are quite good. They were all local singers, although Guy Gardner went on to sing in Europe for some time. His Baritone voice may not be the ultimate for this staggering part, but then Clyde Hager and Verginia Babikian are quite fine in their tenor and soprano parts, respectively.
The "Firebird" of Stravinsky fills out the recording. There are some real problems from many fronts facing this piece in this incarnation. By itself it would get 3 stars at most. First the Berlin Philharmonic brass and winds do not play up to the high standard that was to become their hall mark just a decade later. (This was done in 1957.) I am reminded of a recording of a Bruckner symphony from the same era but with Eugen Jochum. The brass is just as sloppy with him as they seem to be with Stokowski. Also, I could be wrong about this, but there seems to be some stretching or wobbling in the tape itself. There is a long reverberation that has a sort of tremolo to it. That might be on the original recording, but I wish it weren't there. It's not found on any other version of Firebird that I have. The recording just isn't as secure sounding as it might have been. It was made in a church that is too reverberant for Stravinsky's orchestration and frankly it is one of the few times that Stokowski doesn't seem to find the "big bang" at the end. There is noticable lowering and raising of faders "on the fly", done by the producer and engineer I assume. This can't be fixed by remastering in most cases because the tape is straight to two track. The Finale has some oveload in the large chords, something that couldn't be helped with the playback equipment of the time. Some great moments are realized by Stowkowski, but I wonder why he only recorded with them at these sessions and never again. Could the mistakes I hear be a result of "discomfort" between the orchestra and the conductor? It was originally paired with the "Patroucka Suite" with the same orchestra. They were the only two pieces I can find listed that he did record with Berlin. Some of the effects, as I said, are stupendous but the sound from an EMI team is completely different from the Houston recordists that it is quite shocking to hear Carmina followed by this Firebird. Still, for the Orff it is worth owning no matter what.