ORFF Carmina Burana - Live from the Forbidden City
DG celebrates its 120th anniversary by signing another ensemble and conductor from the East who have been developing increasing links with Western music. On this evidence the Shanghai-ers are a bright and bushy-tailed orchestra. Their evident commitment and growing sense of style in another culture’s music are heightened by some evidently distinguished orchestral principals who catch the ear here, especially the first flute and bassoon.
The DVD/Blu ray release has the substantial bonuses of Daniil Trifonov playing the Rachmaninov and Mari Samuelsen in Max Richter’s November. It also contains brief interviews with four of the soloists. The recording on the DVD in particular – and obviously the Forbidden City’s acoustic plays a part here – balances Long Yu’s players and the chorus in the Orff a little more backwardly than we are accustomed to hearing in both the longer items (this seems less noticeable on the CD). And yet this combines well with Yu’s cool and unexaggerated approach to both pieces, the orchestra not grandstanding their solo work in accompanying the Carmina Burana and the Rachmaninov. As does a string sound less rich than we are used to in the West. But there is no lack of either warmth or clarity in the recording (especially on the CD) and a creditable space around the vocal solos. And it’s no harm at all to hear these chestnuts of the repertoire with a lack of attention-grabbing Hollywood Bowl glitz and swagger.
The performances reach out to embrace what was evidently a cold night in the dominatingly exotic splendour of the Forbidden City. It’s perhaps a pity that the two Chinese works were not more substantial and serve only as pretty greeting and farewell. November, a most Four Seasons-like atmospheric exercise, may be the only contemporary Western work here but is an apt choice acoustically and colour-wise within the remainder of the programme. Samuelsen makes a powerful impression with her far from easy part.
Trifonov contributes a second Rachmaninov Two to DG, following his studio success last year with the Philadelphia Orchestra (11/18). In keeping with the mood of this Chinese concert and its orchestra and conductor, this new reading is no splash-and-dash exhibition but rather (despite the wide-open space of the venue) a considered, large-scale chamber reading of subtle colours. The video director gives the pianist a lot of attention, viewing much of the performance from a kind of squat by his keyboard, catching Trifonov’s clear judgements on his own work in his facial expressions.
Carmina Burana: don’t be put off by its seeming laid-backness. This aspect of Yu’s interpretation serves to heighten the folk aspects of the work, too often submerged in a kind of aggressive concert-hall banter. Soloists and choir (both Vienna imports and Shanghai children) are uniformly excellent, Tézier especially being subtle, hypnotic and genuinely witty as opposed to crude buffo. The performance is well worth the attention of a more focused hearing on CD although, as the tenor Toby Spence suggests in interview, the Forbidden City proves a curiously apt setting for the work. Recommended for both the music-making and the occasion.