Supremely image-conscious, Christian Thielemann is a conductor who has plotted his career in much the same way that he plots performances: methodically, and move by move. The plan, clearly, is to claim Karajan's mantle as defender of the core German repertory. And to that end, his work has so far homed in on the serious, heavyweight Teutonic classics, with just the odd trip out to the heavyweight Teutonic fringe for things like Pfitzner's Palestrina. I wonder where Carl Orff's singalong family favourite with the tune that launched a thousand aftershave ads fits into the plan. It's a mite down-market for someone who is not a populist. But maybe that's the point. He wants to show us how he has the common touch - and how he can redeem a piece of bombastic fun like Carmina Burana into respectability. His reading here is respectable, the rough edges smoothed over and the singing refined. It's not the most exciting line on Orff you'll ever hear. But it's the most intelligent, considered and - well, yes - transforming. And nothing that would ever blot the copybook of a conductor on the rise.
PHIL JOHNSON DAN PENN AND SPOONER OLDHAM: MOMENTS FROM THIS THEATRE (Proper Records)
Stripped down to the minimal backing of Oldham's Wurlitzer electric piano and Penn's rudimentary acoustic guitar and good-old-boy vocals, these live performances from a British and Irish tour can seem disconcertingly like pub-rock karaoke. Except, of course, for the quality of the songs. As writers of deep Southern soul for everyone from the Box Tops to Aretha Franklin, Penn and Oldham might sound like they've been to rehab hell and back, but they've composed some of the most moving songs in the genre. A killing opening version of "I'm Your Puppet"; "Do Right Woman", and "The Dark End of the Street" are delivered without frills or fripperies, and the cumulative effect is quietly stunning, although whether this is because or in spite of the humble settings isn't entirely clear.