Carmina Burana/BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/ Hrusa, Barbican Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

It’s been used and abused in ways that Carl Orff could never have imagined (The X Factor, for heaven’s sake?), it’s represented in over 300 currently available recordings and performed sometime, somewhere, just about every day of the week; Joseph Goebbels loved the tunes but wasn’t so sure about the smutty lyrics, others of his persuasion called it “Bavarian negro music” – work that one out. Carmina Burana is the most over-exposed piece of the 20th century music – a description most fitting to its content – and it really does take an exceptional performance to reassert its brilliance. This was one.

The young Czech conductor Jakub Hrusa was precisely the kind of frisky presence needed to re-point those infectious rhythms and infuse the lusty choral unisons with a renewed sense of purpose.

From the very first fruity pedal point of brass and timpani and the blazing declamation “O Fortuna” he rekindled the kind of fervour which once whipped the Nazi party into a frenzy. Yes, it was that theatrical.

The BBC Symphony Chorus hardly knew themselves, dispensing with corporation manners and asserting the idea of bedding the Queen of England with what could only be described as indecent relish. The BBC Symphony trumpets urged them on with blistering fanfares.

“In taberna” (“In the Tavern”) we had John Graham-Hall’s roasted swan acting out his sweaty ordeal like his life depended on it, impossibly high tenor shifting into agonising falsetto as Hitler’s cohorts – one might imagine - fanned the flames.

Then there was William Dazeley’s inebriated Abbott of Cockaigne slurring his sermon whilst exercising communion of a rather different kind. Hrusa brought on the Bavarian oom-pah band and then some for the bawdy male chorus which followed.

But out in “The Court of Love” there was the luscious Sally Matthews offering a ravishing “In trutina”, sung it seemed on an eternal sigh of desire. “Dulcissime” brought sublimation in an orgasmic high D – ripe for plucking, you might have said, had not Matthews’ highly pregnant state prompted thoughts of stable doors and bolting horses.

How blissfully ironic that proved come the glittering apotheosis “Blanziflor et Helena” where somewhat confusingly the Virgin Mary and Venus, goddess of love, vie for supremacy in six-part harmony. For the next few days you can see and hear for yourself online via the BBC iPlayer.

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