Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Swelling passion! Generalized haziness!

There wouldn't be a Nereffid's Guide Awards if there wasn't such a thing as a critical consensus, but sometimes a spanner gets thrown into the works.

For instance, successive pages of the May/June 2010 issue of Fanfare present rather contrasting viewpoints on one of the runner-up albums, Valery Gergiev's second recording of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. This is "a superlative performance", according to Christopher Abbott. Or, as Arthur Lintgen puts it, "there is almost nothing right about this recording". The thing is, "He seems to be totally lost in lengthy, lyrical passages like the Balcony Scene". Ah, but... "Gergiev handles the shift in emphasis from masculine to feminine with grace, humor, and finally, swooning, swelling passion". OK, so, that means...? "Believe it or not, this is mediocre, even dull, from beginning to end". I see. So what's the sound quality like? "The characteristically dry acoustic of the Barbican doesn’t interfere with the sumptuousness of Prokofiev’s orchestration; that same dryness aids the more acerbic nature of some of the scoring as well as providing clarity to the instrumental detailing; there is also no lack of atmosphere and depth in the sound". No - wait - "The sonics are best described as being soft-centered. There is a generalized haziness with a conspicuous lack of presence in the high frequencies. Sharp transients sound diffuse and seriously suppressed. This totally negates the effect of Prokofiev’s outstanding scoring for percussion. The overall softness of the sound seriously mitigates the music’s many dynamic contrasts".

Argh! Now I'm confused. Think I'll listen to some Rachmaninov instead, such as this recording of the Symphonic Dances, Isle of the Dead, and The Rock from Vasily Petrenko and the RLPO. After all, Classics Today gave it 10/10 ("you'd be hard pressed to find demonstrably superior versions of any of these pieces gathered together on a single disc.") and MusicWeb named it a Recording of the Month ("
Buy this one – now! I doubt you’ll regret it and I hope it will excite you as much as it has excited me."). But wait, who's this leaping up and down waving a red flag? It's Fanfare's Richard A. Kaplan! "perhaps I must ask, as Charles Ives famously did, "Are my ears on wrong?" This CD displays a conductor who thinks it is his privilege to disregard, if not rewrite, practically every performance direction in the score... I don’t know whether young pianists and conductors are being taught these days that interpretive arbitrariness and self-indulgence are musical virtues... but I’m certainly not about to encourage them here".

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