Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
The 'Carmina Burana' is a collection of songs, mostly secular, contained in a 13th-century manuscript that was rediscovered in a Bavarian monastery in 1803. Since then many composers have dipped in to it, most famously and successfully the German Carl Orff who used some of the poems in his 1937 cantata, including his "greatest hit", "O Fortuna" which has appeared on numerous compilations, soundtracks and advertising campaigns. The double CD here reviewed is not Carl Orff's 'Carmina' and is indeed about as different as it is possible to be. What we have is one of the few religious works within the collection, "The Great Mystery Of The Passion". It dates from the 13th-century and shows how the great medieval Mystery Cycles started. Thus we start in the city square with a procession, meet Mary Magdalene (sung by Cyrille Gerstenheber), rejoice as Lazarus is raised from the dead, and then see Judas betray his Lord before we move in to the sacred space of the church or cathedral to re-tell the old, old story of the Passion of the Christ. This Passion was restaged in 1998 by the Atelier Lyrique de Rhin, in collaboration with the Ensemble Organum directed by Marcel Peres. Musically there is more chanting than choral singing and listeners who appreciate Hildegard von Bingen will enjoy the performance. Personally I would have liked a little more passion: the singing, excellent though it is throughout is, to my ears, rather sterile. Having said that, those interested in the history and development of Western music will appreciate having this missing link available again at a good price.
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