Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What does Calum MacDonald mean?

BBC Music's Calum MacDonald gets snotty while reviewing Khatia Buniatishvili's new Liszt disc:
'I was always aware that my first recording had to be a portrait of Liszt,' says Khatia Buniatishvili in her stupefying booklet note. 'Only he would enable me to present as a unity the many aspects of my soul.' Well, pardon my ignorance: I always thought a performer's prime duty was to convey the essence of the composer, not of themselves.
Unless he's omitted some context from the Buniatishvili quote, MacDonald's arguing against a straw man here: she never said it was the performer's prime duty to convey the essence of themselves. I read this quote as "My first recording had to be a portrait of Liszt because he's the composer that speaks so closely to me personally". If there's a "me" in there, it's because, well, it's her recital, and pianos don't play themselves. So why did MacDonald bring the point up, especially since he goes on to give the performance 4 stars out of 5, thereby endorsing her approach?
Welcome to a special edition of "Did you even listen to the same CD?" with only one reviewer.
You see, we have "focused intensity" for the Liebestraum no.3, and we have a "mesmeric sense of inwardness" in the transcription of Bach's Prelude and fugue in A minor, and we have an "eloquently desolate account" of Lugubre gondola no.2.
But! "There's not a trace in this recital of Liszt's philosophical depth".
He can't seem to get past what he calls "the self-regarding aspects of the exercise". While conceding that "there's some dumbfounding playing", he contrasts this recital's "deranged conviction" with the "magisterial perfection" of Nelson Freire's new Liszt disc. But he does admit that "this is probably how they played in the 19th century".
Wait a second, didn't Liszt live in the 19th century?

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