Orff’s best-known composition is more frequently encountered in the concert hall than in the opera house, but it was originally conceived for the stage, where it became the first panel of a theatrical triptych which references the lavish and exotic tableaux of Renaissance entertainments at ducal palaces in Mantova, Florence and Rome. The common theme of the trilogy’s diverse parts is the triumph of love, wherever it is encountered: in the beer-soaked medieval taverns of Carmina burana, the urgent Classical poetry of Catullus or the more refined and elliptical reflections on Eros by Sappho and Euripides.
Over the 15 years of its composition, the soundworld of Trionfi evolved, from the crashing gongs and brass of Carmina burana to an emphasis on percussive instruments – piano, drums, xylophones prominent among them – in the more direct, less lyrically effusive setting of Trionfo di Afrodite. Throughout, however, the influence of Stravinsky is palpable in word-setting, harmony and instrumentation, and in particular his vernacular masterpiece Les Noces: indeed Trionfo di Afrodite also depicts a wedding.
Recordings of the complete trilogy are far less frequently encountered than the standalone blockbuster that is Carmina burana, and this 1970s East-German set has much to recommend it, not least the punchy, no-nonsense direction of Herbert Kegel (who conducted and recorded very many of Orff’s large-scale works, including his operas) and some radiant soprano singing from his wife at the time, Celestina Casapietra. "What distinguishes the music-making throughout," considered Gramophone’s critic in 1979, "is the consistently superb singing of the Leipzig choir, from which Kegel produces thrillingly clean articulation and the widest range of dynamic contrast and colour … performances that are all among the finest available."
This 2CD set presents the complete “Trionfi”, the set of three Cantatas which Carl Orff wrote on texts of the ancient Greeks (Trionfi di Afrodite), Catulli Carmina (on verses by the famous Roman poet Catullus) and the famous and immensely popular Carmina Burana, on medieval student poetry.
Orff’s musical language is as raw, raucous and “vulgar” (in the literal sense of “of the people”) as his texts: theatrical, blown-up and extravagant these works foreshadow the 20-th century pop culture, they certainly achieved the same popularity (the opening choir “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana is a world hit).
Excellent classic performances from the East-German archives of Berlin Classics with the great conductor Herbert Kegel (specialist in 20th century repertoire) and the RSO Leipzig.