Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, which the composer designated a "scenic cantata," has firmly established itself as one of the most successful of all choral works, regardless of category, regardless of period, and with or without staged action. There have been numerous recordings of the work in the last 25 years or so; the current Schwann lists no fewer than 10 -- of which the newest is actually the oldest and, confusions of chronology aside, quite simply the best.
Perhaps the finest performance of Carmina Burana ever recorded was the very first one, conducted by Eugene Jochum for Deutsche Grammophon in mono and issued here by American Decca.Jochum's stereo remake (DG 139.362) is less winning for a number of factors, one of them being a classic example of miscasting in the apparent belief that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's name would help sell the record. But the very first sterio version of this popular work, recorded by Supraphon in Prague in June 1961 under the direction of Vaclav Smetacek, came very close to matching Jochum's earlier achievement interpretively and benefited from very good, if not really outstanding, sonics.
This version was first issued here on the now defunct Parliament label in 1962, and subsequently reappeared briefly on Turnabout TV 34266. It has always been available as a Supraphon import, both by itself and as part of Smetacek's integral recording of Trionfi, the Orff triptych in which it is followed by Catulli carmina and Il trionfo di Afrodite. Now it has been reissued on yet another domestic label, as Quintessence PMC 7122, and it has never sounded better.
The recording was a good one to begin with, but through some near-miraculous technique, Quintessence remastering engineer' Steven Vining has made it sound brand-new, with a richness and vibrancy that do not sound at all artificial. Nearly every word of text is intelligible; every drumbeat can be felt naturally as well as heard clearly. There is no congestion, no suggestion of attenuated highs as there were in the earlier editions of the same tapes.
Moreover, Quintessence has not only provided surfaces that would be exemplary even on "full-price" discs, but has supplied the full text (both original and English), which neither of the previous domestic processors did. This splendid recording also is available as a cassette (P4C-'122); Quintessence does not supply any annotation or texts with its cassettes, but the technical quality is good enough to make the Smetacek Carmina Burana as safe a recommendation in this format as on the disc.
In the same release, Quintessence has reissued the recording of Mozart's big Wind Serenade in B-flat, K-361, by members of the Collegium Aureum, that was available a few years ago on a domestically pressed BASF dic. There are several fine recordings of the so-called "Gran Partita." But this one has a special sweetness and, by no means contradictorily, a special bite -- "sweet and pungent," but never sour -- because of the use of natural horns and other period instruments in this really enchanting performance (PMC-7125). Again Quintessence has improved conspicuously on the sound of the earlier disc edition, and again there is a similarly successful cassetts (P4C-7125) -- the only recording of this work issued in that format.
Another welcome Collegium Aureum reissue on Quintessence is a two-disc set of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos (2PMC-2705), formerly available on Victrola. In this case the new edition may not be an improvement, but it is every bit as good as the earlier one, and again there is cassette availability (2P4C-2705). Of the several recordings of the Brandenburgs using "original instruments," this solid, straightforward set of performances is the most robust as well as the most economical, and all round probably the most likable of the lot.