Topic: Simon Rattle-BerlinPO
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While their counterparts in Vienna consistently ring in the New Year with a festive program of Strauss waltzes, the Berlin Philharmonic prefer to vary the tune. On December 31, 2004, Simon Rattle marked the occasion by leading his orchestra in some quite different but equally popular music: Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, recorded live for this CD release. A neo-primitivist setting of medieval monks' poetry might not seem an obvious choice for celebrating New Year's Eve, but upon reflection it makes perfect sense. The work's structure -- beginning and ending with an ode to the eternally circling wheel of fate (the famous chorus "O Fortuna") -- nicely mirrors the experience of looking back on the past year and forward to the new. Moreover, those medieval monks devoted a good deal of their poetry to the twin delights of love and ale, topics on the minds of many New Year's revelers by midnight. As Orff's chorus sings in "In Taberna": "The mistress drinks, the master drinks, the soldier drinks, the cleric drinks, this man drinks, that woman drinks..." and so on, ad infinitum -- a more primal take than that of Strauss' "Wine, Woman and Song." Finally, Carmina Burana makes a big, exciting, glorious amount of noise in the right hands, and it certainly does so here, with Rattle directing the combined choral and orchestral forces in a roof-rattling performance. The three vocal soloists all sing their parts with gusto, too, even if they don't quite measure up to the teams assembled on some competing discs: Christian Thielemann's recent recording, for example, or Eugen Jochum's classic version. What sets Rattle's offering apart is that Carmina Burana really benefits from the visceral thrills that can emerge in a live performance. Especially in those passages that burst with pure carnal energy, Orff's score has never sounded more potent than it does here. Scott Paulin