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on November 26, 2000
I've had the LP version of this Carmina Burana performance by Shaw in my collection since its initial release in 1981 (recorded in November, 1980), and the CD version since it first came out a few years later (in 1984, as a very early Telarc CD). After listening to many versions of this over a period of decades, I now feel comfortable in saying that there is only one recording which tops it in performance values (Eugen Jochum leading the Berlin Germain Opera Orchestra and Chorus, with Gundula Janowitz in the all-important soprano role, on DGG), and absolutely none which can top it in recording values. Telarc, under the artistic and technical direction of Bob Woods and Jack Renner, was simply years ahead of all of the major record labels in sound quality.

Robert Shaw has the measure of this work. The opening O Fortuna chorus must be measured and deliberate, not rushed, and here Shaw paces his forces, and his dynamics, perfectly. The Atlanta Symphony Chorus is simply without equal in its ability to generate and project beautiful tone at any volume level, and, of course, in the opening and closing O Fortuna choruses, the volume called for is considerable.

Hakan Hagegard does fine in his baritone solos, and William Brown provides a delicious "roasted swan" episode. But pride of place among the soloists must go to Judith Blegen, here providing one of her finest performances on record.

Her performance of In Trutina, the penultimate solo before the return of O Fortuna at the conclusion, is equalled in sheer vocal beauty only by that of Gundula Janowitz on Jochum's recording. It is the type of tune that just melts one, and that is precisely what Ms. Blegen does here. Try to forget the amaeturish efforts of the likes of Sarah Brightman and Charlotte Church singing, and trying to popularize out of context, this beauty. Go for the real thing - and the full work - with Judith Blegen.

One of Robert Shaw's finest and most popular recordings, and a Telarc audiophile milestone, as powerful, dynamic and detailed today as it was when recorded two decades ago. The performance and recording have stood the test of time remarkably well.

Bob Zeidler
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on October 31, 1998
I have 5 versions of the 'Carmina Burana' and this is the most spectaular of the lot. Hakan Hagegard is phenomenal on 'Circa Mea Pectora'. Shaw shows that he is a master of Choral music. The only problem I have with it is the fact that the CD has only 4 tracks. While this divides the work as was written it makes it difficult to listen to favorite portions, the lesser versions have each piece as a separate track. Still this is the one to buy!
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on September 24, 2000
Robert Shaw is widely regarded as the foremost choral conductor of his generation, and perhaps even of all time. Shaw's choruses had a unique sound because of his obsession with diction, purity, and blend, creating some of the most graceful and technically pristine renditions of many of the great choral masterworks.
Orff's writing, on the other hand, is for the most part anything but graceful. Carmina Burana is one of his tamer works by far, but there is still plenty of evidence associating it with the rough, barbaric texture of his other works, which often include shouting from the chorus and explosions of sound from his beloved percussion (i.e. `De temporum fine comoedia'). The Nazi party in particular, who especially enjoyed Carmina Burana, championed the crude, primitive, and powerfully motivational excitement of his music.
I find that in this recording, Shaw stays true to his form, creating beautiful, graceful sounds from his chorus, which in the case of this composition is entirely inappropriate. The carnal power that drives movements such as `Were diu welt alle min' and `In taberna quando sumus' is simply absent. The result evokes imagery closer to a couple sipping wine in an expensive Italian restaurant rather than a bunch of drunken men in a tavern, one yelling about how he is the abbott of Cuckoominster.
Among the soloists, soprano Judith Blegen and baritone Hakan Hagegard give fine performances. Tenor William Brown on the other hand, given the task of illustrating the pain felt by a duck as he is being roasted in an aria with an absurdly high tessitura (Olim lacus colueram), switches to falsetto on the highest pitches and seems to abandon his sense of intonation. The result is certainly painful, but not necessarily in the way it was intended.
Finally, one should note that this recording divides the work, consisting of 25 separate movements, into only four tracks, which is simply annoying. A far better recording of Carmina Burana, in my opinion, which much better captures the excitement inherent in the writing, is Slatkin's performance with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Hagegard is also the baritone in this recording; Sylvia McNair delivers an even more innocent and pure performance (appropriate, in this case, since she represents a young virgin) than Blegen; and John Aler gives the most passable rendition of the tenor aria I've heard, never once switching to falsetto, even on the high C'd and D's.
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on January 30, 2001
I have to admit I am partial to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; after being brought to tears by their performance of Carmina Burana last year, nothing can compare. Despite my bias, there are some inherent flaws on Robert Shaw's recording of Carmina Burana: though the chorus is powerful and intense, the soloists are less than satisfactory, save Judith Blegen, whose rendition of Dolcissime is flawless. William Brown's performance is so harsh and ingratiating you want to cut yourself. No recording can compare to hearing Carmina Burana live, but if you want a recording to capture the intensity of two-hundred voices singing O Fortuna at a volume strong enough to tear you out of your seat, buy the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's recording and you will not be let down. Intense.
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on December 13, 2004
To counter some of the other reviewer's comments here, I have both the Slatkin/St Louis Symphony version and the Robert Shaw version and there's no comparison. The Slatkin version is ponderous and the audio is pure mud. The chorus and orchestra are mixed together in a mess of sound that makes hearing the words impossible. In addition, the orchestral bass notes are just a bunch of mush.

By comparison, the Shaw version is crystal clear with easily distinguished choral voices, bass notes and triangles/cymbols. The bass drum rattles your fillings and adds to the impact. I've sung this piece myself in the Kennedy Center (Wash DC) and find this version to be perfect in every way. The chorus is superb. Buy it.
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on March 25, 2000
Shaw's mastery of the chorus is exemplified in this marvelous composition. Whether it's the soloists, the chorus of adults or children, he brings out the best in their sound and diction. This is not to say the orchestra falters; it is perfectly prepared as counterpoint for the vocals and takes the stage boldly when called upon.
I have several other recordings of this work (I recommend you avoid the Previn/Pittsburgh version) and none compare. I even had the chance to see Shaw lead Cincinnati's May Festival Chorus and Symphony Orchestra in a stirring performance of the full work, but this is still better.
A must for anyone who loves classical vocal music.
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on February 16, 2000
This is the best CD for "Carmina Burana" available today. Many people are oddly introduced to 'Carmina' in haunting movie themes and backgrounds, ie The Omen and Conan the Barbarian: but to truly enjoy the full flavor of this masterpiece you have got to get this recording by Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony. Shaws' treatment is precise and the execution is definative. Shaw allows the listener a "between the lines interpretation" of the Choral with just the right touch. This CD is, so far, the benchmark.
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on February 22, 2014
I highly recommend the Shaw-ASO performance of Carmina Burana, recorded by Telarc in 1980.

Carmina Burana is a cantata of catchy tunes and snappy rhythms, with a vaguely medieval aura. It is a marvelous composition: invigorating, eccentric, eclectic, devilishly challenging to perform, and ruinously expensive to stage. The score calls for a symphony orchestra and chorus, a boy choir, and a soprano, a tenor, and a baritone soloist. Some notes of the solo parts are beyond the usual registers of the voices. The baritone solo is meant to be sung entirely in falsetto.

A live performance of Carmina Burana is a spectacle to behold. A superb recorded performance heard on high definition headphones or speakers is a sublime experience.

I have studied the Shaw-ASO recording and compared it to several other recommended performances of the work. The Shaw recording stands out in several respects: the exuberance of the performance, the incomparable power and amazing diction of the ASO Chorus, the assertiveness of the ASO brass and percussion, and the technical excellence of the recorded sound. As a bonus, the program notes by Nick Jones are worth the price of the album.

The Deutsche Grammophon recording of the performance conducted by Eugen Jochum in 1986 is a worthy contender. Jochum leads the orchestra and chorus of the German Opera, Berlin, and two superb soloists, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gundula Janowitz, both in their prime.

Though meager compared to Shaw’s mighty forces, Jochum’s ensemble performs superbly. Janowitz sings in the punctuated operatic manner, and is strained a bit by the high notes. The great tenor, Fischer-Dieskau, shifts smoothly into falsetto on the high notes. By contrast, Judith Blegen in the Shaw recording delivers a silken performance with no noticeable strain, and William Brown shifts a bit abruptly into falsetto. The baritone falsetto solos sound alike in the two recordings.

The Shaw performance was digitally recorded whereas the Jochum performance was digitally enhanced from an analogue recording. A critical comparison reveals the technical superiority of the Shaw recording. The difference may not be noticeable on small speakers.

The other recorded performances I reviewed, including the 2004 recording by the ASO under Runnicles, suffer uninspired direction, or unremarkable choruses and soloists, or muddled sound.

Get the Shaw or the Jochum album, or both!
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on July 30, 2009
Among my collection of music, Classical, Contemporary, Modern, etc. This recording of Carmina Burana reigns as the best piece of composed music I have.

Why? Well, it stands as the only recording of Carmina Burana I own which emphasizes the choral, symphonic and percussive elements equally.

I will start with the percussion because, well, percussion is what Carl Orff is all about! In most recordings of Carmina Burana the drums sound high and flat. This is the only recording I have ever heard where the drums sound like thunder. The bass frequency of this entire recording is great!

Carmina Burana is a performance piece, not a casual, listen at home kind of work. It is not Bach or Mozart, or anything of that kind. So, in order to review this work I will share my experience of Carmina Burana performed live.

I had the privilege of seeing Carmina Burana performed at the Fort Lauderdale Performing Arts Center in the mid-90s. At the time, it was the largest assembly of musicians the center had ever had on stage at once. Unfortunately it wasn't the theatrical performance that Carmina Burana was designed to be. However, I don't know if it could have been, unless if they rented out the Astrodome to fit the stage sets, actors, etc. as well as the horde of musicians they used.

I had a perfect seat, four rows back and dead center. The energy on stage was intense, the musicians were sweating, the drums sent aftershocks through the hall, the Cellists strings were breaking, and it was outstanding!! The boy's choir was in perfect pitch, which is very rare to hear. Children's voices are rarely ever in perfect pitch. When the performance was over, within a split second I started what was a truly deserved standing ovation. Outside the Performing Arts Center, a Tropical Storm had ensued, rain was flooding the streets, thunder and lightning were shaking ground and I stood there with the feeling that somehow, this performance had opened up the skies.

This recording is the only recording I have which even remotely resembles that sound and feeling.

Carl Orff as a Composer is an oddity of his time. When music was venturing into Twelve Tone, Orff was bringing music back to its primal elements. Carmina Burana is also a fantastic crossover album for the Rock Music lover. It has the power and intensity of Punk and more darkness than the darkest Iron Maiden album.

This is one of the best pieces of Compositional Music ever made. If you have any doubts, take a listen.
You will not regret it.

- Michael Wiley
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon December 23, 2013
The answer is one, and the one I have had for years is the one with Jochum and Fischer-Dieskau on DGG. I picked up this one by Robert Shaw for $3.00 because I thought it would be interesting to hear a digital recording of it. Well, it's fine. The chorus comes through loud and clear (or soft and clear, as needed), with good balance with the orchestra and soloists. If I'm sticking with Jochum, it's just because I love Fischer-Dieskau's voice in the baritone part, but on this, Hagegaard is perfectly lovely too. When I was getting into classical music about 50 years ago, I thought this music was great. Modern music really WAS accessible!! Now, older and wiser, or more jaded, I think that this piece is lively and charming -- and that it must be lots of fun to sing. I first heard it done by a student chorus at Edinburgh University, and it made its effect. Telarc's sound in the early digital days, and since (1980 in this case), is on the whole extremely good, and Shaw knows how to get the chorus singing with great diction and with precision, without sounding too clinical. He does fine here. Why not five stars, then? Well . . . it's four star music, isn't it?
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