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Natasha Marsalli

The Futile Search for Perfection

June 5, 2008 at 9:36 PM

When I was two years old, my Mom took me to a live performance of Carmina Burana because the Ormandy recording was my absolute favorite cassette tape (remember those?) to listen to. Bolstered up with pillows so I could see the stage, I stayed awake and alert through almost the entire concert. I had almost forgotten the magic of that piece until, in junior high, my mom turned it on when I had a friend over. Still familiar with it, I thought of it as no more than background music, but Sam thought it was awesome and bought the same recording as soon as he could. About a year and a half down the road, we went to a live performance of Carmina Burana on our first date (unofficially...the official one was Rite of Spring...but that's another story). It came up again during Latin class, when we were assigned a passage to translate- "olim lacus colueram", the song that the roasting swan sings. Needless to say, Carmina Burana has become one of my absolute favorite pieces of music.

But loving a piece so much has dire consequences. Memories have a nasty way of perfecting musical performances; we come away with an ideal sound in our mind that we might be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Such is the case with Carmina Burana for me.

The search for "the perfect recording" began right after Mom pulled out the Ormandy recording for Sam. After listening to it again, I found it didn't sound quite as amazing as I had remembered it, mostly due to the poor sound quality on the cassette, so I went in search for a better. The recording by the Atlanta Symphony came very close at the time, discarded only because of the remarkably poor recording balance. But listening to that recording forever marred my opinion of the Ormandy, after hearing another soprano hold her high note forever...and ever...and ever. A new, higher standard was set.

My fanatical search was temporarily postponed after a heavenly performance of Scheherazade by the French National Orchestra sent me on another chase (stifled only after a recording was bought for me...the search still continues however...) but revived recently upon the presentation of several Barnes & Noble gift cards and an enticing classical music sale. Hurried by the ending of the sale, I spent an entire day searching online for the "perfect recording," listening to clip after clip of inadequate recordings. In none of the CDs did all the factors- orchestra, soloist, recording quality- line up perfectly. No jackpot.

Although I missed the sale- my search for perfection eventually outweighed my search for a good deal- I finally settled on an old out-of-print import from the Toulouse Orchestra and am planning to buy it soon. But, even though it is excellent, there was something lacking in the clips that I missed. I doubt that I will ever find exactly what I am looking for in a recording. There is no such thing as a perfect recording in an imperfect world. And that is a great shame.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 6, 2008 at 1:17 AM
Personally, I prefer a little imperfection. That's part of what makes a live performance or a recorded version of a live performance so great. It is full of life and vitality. A recording of a studio performance is more "perfect" because parts are rerecorded until they are technically clean. For a small ensemble, the musicians often don't even play together. Each player is recorded in a studio listening to other players through headphones. Whenever I can, I buy a recording of a live (in concert) version. Its spirit is so much stronger, and that outweighs technical perfection for me.
From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on June 6, 2008 at 2:58 AM
It's funny . . I know what you mean about certain pieces of music being so special to you that you want the 'perfect' version to listen to. For a while I had that with the Brahms G Major sonata . . . after I saw Brian Lewis play it live, no recordings I heard afterwards seemed to do it justice.

What's even more funny is that I've had the opposite experience too. Do you know Arvo Part's Spiegel im Spiegel? Well, I used to listen to the Vladimir Spivakov version a lot on the radio. Then one time I got the chance to see it live. I was so excited! But the weird thing is that my expectations were so high that I actually ended up liking the recording better than the live version. Which rarely happens to me.

Like you said, there is no perfect recording out there because life isn't perfect. But there are a lot of pretty darn good ones that we can thoroughly enjoy. Like Pauline said, its the imperfections that make things interesting. :)

From Natasha Marsalli
Posted on June 6, 2008 at 12:40 PM
I completely agree about the live performances! There's a spirit there- an interaction between the musicians and the audience, if you will- that makes a live performance- and its imperfections!- "better" (for lack of a better word) than a studio recording.
From Joe Fischer
Posted on June 7, 2008 at 11:08 AM
Try "Carmina Burana"
Deutsche Grammophon 447_437-2

Carl Orff conducting !!!!!

The definitive version......

From Natasha Marsalli
Posted on June 7, 2008 at 1:55 PM
^I'm afraid I can't find that recording online...
From Joe Fischer
Posted on June 7, 2008 at 2:30 PM


I think its this ^^^

From Joe Fischer
Posted on June 7, 2008 at 2:32 PM
It's a re-issue.
From Joe Fischer
Posted on June 7, 2008 at 2:34 PM
Authorized by Carl Orff
not conducted.

Conducted by Eugen Jochum...

From Natasha Marsalli
Posted on June 7, 2008 at 4:03 PM
Right, I checked this one of course before, since it is widely held to be the best recording, but I found the orchestra quite sounds tinny to me, really lacking the smooth, round tone that I consider "ideal" in Carmina Burana. Merely a matter of personal taste, I'm sure, though. Thanks for the suggestion! :)
From Joe Fischer
Posted on June 8, 2008 at 12:05 AM
No problem.
I really am not concerned with the
orchestra in "Carmina Burana"
JUST the singing involved.
So,if you ever do discover a more
orchestrally signifigant rendition,then allow me to know your choice involved.
You must be correct,with all of the recordings available,there must be a better recording.
I was just thrilled that Carl Orff was in the audience for the stated performance---and Carl Orff gave it his stamp of approval.........

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