Riccardo Muti, whose aesthetic preferences are sometimes surprising, chose to inaugurate [the orchestra's] vaunted Manhattan visit with the meretricious claptrap of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. So much for intellectual and/or emotional challenge.On reading this we simultaneously smiled and winced (a neat trick, that), for while we could not help but agree with Mr. Bernheimer's bitingly laconic assessment of the work, we nevertheless harbor "an ongoing, undiminished, and fairly mindless fascination with it," as we've previously remarked here on S&F. As we went on to say:
Its unrelenting ostinati; its primitive, propulsive rhythmic drive; its unsubtle tonic-dominant harmony sans any trace of chromatic coloring — in short, its very "dumbness" — is what seems to attract. It's a sort of invigorating mind-rester: primally engaging, and no thought required. And it's weird. Very weird. The text, I mean, its weirdness sharpened by being written and of course sung mostly in Latin.But as Mr. Bernheimer neatly put it concerning other music on the CSO's program for the following night's concert, "one didn’t have to love the music on this occasion to admire the music-making," so it is with a particularly brilliant reading of Carmina recorded and released on vinyl LP in 1958 by Capitol Records featuring (of all groups!) the Houston Choral, Houston Youth Symphony Boys' Choir, and Houston Symphony Orchestra with the great and inimitable Leopold Stokowski on the podium which recording was subsequently remastered and transferred to CD by EMI. (It's paired on this recording with a reading of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite about which reading the less said the better.) As we wrote about this recorded performance of Carmina:
Lord knows I'm no Stoki fan generally which in my day was enough to get one run out of Philadelphia on a rail were one reckless enough to admit to it in public. But of all the recorded readings of this work of my experience Stoki is the only one to get everything right sans any minuses. He draws from the at that time less than world-class Houston forces performances that the best of the era would have been proud to have produced, and draws from the soloists — Virginia Babikian, Clyde Hager, and Guy Gardner — performances to match. A truly sterling reading. [Our full and more detailed commentary on Carmina and this recorded performance can be read here.]This EMI remastering is a tough-to-impossible CD to find new, but one well worth the search.