Orff: Ein Sommernachtstraum / Von Gehren, Andechser Orff-Akademie Des Munchner RO

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ORFF Ein Sommernachtstraum Christian von Gehren, cond; various actors; Andechs Fest Ch; Munich Youth O; Munich Radio O Andechs ORFF Academy CPO 777 657 (146:09) Live: Andechs 7/28–30/2010

Carl Orff’s incidental music for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream grew out of the desire of the National Socialists—generally, but here specifically Frankfurt’s anti-Semitic Lord Mayor Friedrich Krebs—to produce an appropriately Aryan accompaniment to the play as replacement for the now inconveniently “Jewish” musical additions of Felix Mendelssohn. Orff, even as his scenic cantata Carmina burana was gaining popular acclaim in the new Germany, was concerned with his politically dubious reputation as a modernist and consorter with leftists during the Weimar years. So he took the commission despite warnings from his pragmatic publisher that he would never be able to “dispatch Mendelssohn.” In fairness, his interest in the Elizabethan comedy was real; he had been working on such incidental music since 1917. No doubt he also found the sizable advance attractive. But what had been politically expedient in 1938—he prospered during the Third Reich—was to haunt him after the war, however facile his explanations, and at the least diminishes any pleasure one might have in hearing what he has to offer.

Or maybe not. The audience certainly seems to enjoy this production from the 2010 Orff in Andechs Festival. It will be rougher going for anyone lacking fluent German. Though the story is well known, and the alert listener will be able to figure out what is happening some of the time, there is no text, translation, or synopsis, a serious failing shared with cpo’s other recording from this festival, the Orff/Monteverdi Orpheus . My admiration goes out to anyone who, textless, can happily attend for more than two hours and 20 minutes to heavily edited Shakespeare in German, with attractively dreamlike but inconsequential and repetitive music cues that cannot even be appreciated in context of the words they are to amplify.

Cynicism aside, one is left wondering what Orff did to earn his substantial commission. Many of the handful of independent pieces are adaptations of other compositions: The prelude is from Carmina burana (“Si puer cum puellula”) transformed into a fanfare, used again in full as a replacement for the wedding march. The Rustics are introduced (in this version of 1964) with music from the 1943 fairy tale opera Die Kluge, which, in this context, jars with its banality. Annotator Thomas Rösch suggests other sources: Carmina burana again (“Chramer, gip die varwe mir”) for Titania’s lullaby, and an allusion to the act II duet for Octavian and Sophie from Der Rosenkavalier for the moonrise scene. I suppose one could make a game out of identifying the remaining borrowed themes, but I’ll leave that to others.

There are magical moments; the playing of the trumpet to the moon has the same charm as the ending of Der Mond , the prelude to the ninth scene in Theseus’ palace recalls moments of repose in the famous cantata, and the wonderful midnight melodrama (though I would have wanted Puck’s speeches done less malevolently) and finale (name that source!) provide a fitting end. Would that it all had been so engaging. The youth orchestras, and the chorus in its brief outings, are able; the recording clear for those for whom German is not an obstacle. The birds chirping in the forest are a nice touch. In any case, though my curiosity has been only partly satisfied, at least now, thanks to cpo, the historical footnote is made tangible. You might want to check the samples online before buying. And find a translation.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777657-2

  • UPC: 761203765720

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Carl Orff

  • Conductor: Christian Von Gehren

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Andechser Orff Akademie Des Münchner Rundfunkorchesters

  • Performer: Andreas Haun, Barbara Böhler, Christian Arndt Sanchez