Sara Macliver, soprano
Jonathan Summers, baritone
Paul McMahon, tenor
Sydney Children’s Choir
Antony Walker, conductor
CD: ABC Classics
reviewed by Anne Hodgson
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation should make more of the fact that this is one of the rare recordings of the non-orchestral version of this notorious work. The arrangement which Orff made for two choruses, three soloists, percussion and two pianos loses absolutely nothing of the work’s fundamental spirit and direct appeal to the listeners’ emotional responses. Despite the absence of the familiar orchestral colour, this performance is vibrant, exciting and completely fascinating. Although in terms of numbers the ensemble on this recording ranks far below the massed forces of the better-known orchestral version, it is so accomplished a presentation that there is no need to make comparisons.
The members of the vocal group Cantillation meet the very heavy demands of the score with great facility and technical expertise and are unfailingly strong in their central part, calling on a wide range of expression from the most delicate to the heartily robust, while the essential lighter vocal colour is provided by the excellently controlled Sydney Children’s Choir, although their involvement in the soprano’s dilemma of choice is perhaps a little clinical.
Tenor Paul McMahon is a beautifully pathetic cooked swan, singing in the falsetto range with remarkable ease and clarity, and soprano Sara Macliver shows both technical excellence and a definite sense of character, despite her comparatively brief part in the work. If one is looking for a memorable Abbot of Cockaigne, one need look no further than baritone Jonathon Summers, who performs his more extensive role with great artistry, skill and a very appealing element of personification.
The instrumental parts of this performance of Carmina Burana are provided by Australian Virtuosi, a two-piano duo, and the percussion ensemble Synergy Percussion. Between them these musicians fulfil the huge demands of this arrangement with outstanding artistic flair and brilliance.
Working with this particular combination of exceptional Australian talent must have been a
conductor’s dream for Antony Walker; his interpretation of the work and his control of the forces have produced what is probably one of the best ABC recorded performances of 2002.