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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.