Sunday, September 5, 2010


Part of an occasional series in which we compare two reviews of the same recording and ask "Did you even listen to the same CD?"

For Dmitri Hvorostovsky's new album "Pushkin Romances" (Delos), BBC Music Magazine's Michael Scott Rohan goes head-to-head with Gramophone's David Fanning...

Rohan: "[Pushkin's] poetry's proverbially musical, but unlike some great verse it both inspires and repays musical settings"
Fanning: "if you want a disc to reinforce your prejudice that Russian song is all cloying self-indulgence, here it is"
Rohan: "featuring less famous but no less impressive figures such as... Sviridov, and Vlasov's elegant 'Fountain at Bakhchisarai'"
Fanning: "the kitsch-mongery of Vlasov and Sviridov"
Rohan: "Bringing them all to life is Hvorostovsky's performance"
Fanning: "a master of self-regarding baritonal syrup"
Rohan: "compelling delivery"
Fanning: " generalised intensity"
Rohan: "passionate, brooding or forceful with Pushkin's flowing lines"
Fanning: "a deadening uniformity of colour and expression across the board"
Rohan: Disc of the Month
Fanning: "Delos have some nerve expecting anyone to part with money for 45 minutes of such indifferent artistry".


Mike Scott Rohan said...

I'm sorry I didn't see your comment when it was first posted. There's much that could be said about the differences between our reviews, but I think the main one is self-evident -- the bilious tone of Gramophone's, and the invitation to dislike the entire repertoire. And, of course, the assumption that the critic is an inherently more reliable judge than an artist of established worth-- and in music to which he's native and the critic isn't.

His lofty dismissals of "generalized intensity" and "deadening uniformity" sound peculiar, when you can hear Hvorostovsky shaping Pushkin's lines -- maybe not with the hectoring emphasis of a Fischer-Dieskau, but clearly enough. It makes me wonder if in fact DF has any Russian, or at least enough to appreciate fine details of music and poetry, and consequently of their expression.

Of course every critic has off-days when he can't stand whatever has landed on his desk, and just feels like brushing the whole thing off. But that's unfair to the artist and grossly unfair to the reader -- in fact, it betrays the entire purpose of criticism.

What, after all, do expressions like "self-regarding baritonal syrup" mean? It's not critical description, it's mere generalized abuse. You could use it to rubbish any baritone; and that applies pretty much to this whole review.

A couple of final points. First, I didn't choose this as Disc of the Month. That choice is always made by the BBC's editorial panel, then including such well-informed judges as Daniel Jaffe, Prokofiev's biographer; so evidently they were listening to the same CD, and endorsed my view. Second, it just might be relevant that I had been reviewing for Gramophone myself, until a year or so before, when I finally resigned in anger at pressures being exerted by the then deputy editor. This review probably wasn't payback, but one wonders......

Nereffid said...

"I'm sorry I didn't see your comment when it was first posted."
Same here! Thanks for the observations.
A couple of points in return, for the record: Attributing the "Disc of the Month" decision to you was just shorthand for neatness's sake. And something I'm not sure I've ever made clear in these "Did you even listen to the same CD?" things is that I'll generally tend to believe an enthusiastic review over a damning one, although I'm always interested when the critic is prepared to look inside him- or herself and attempt to understand his or her negative reaction.