Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pass the salt

In the latest American Record Guide, Steven J Haller reviews a reissue from Regis:
This Dukas program from Jean Fournet and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic was originally a Denon CD (Nov/Dec 1993) and comes with its own review on the back, courtesy of the Penguin Guide: "amongst the best... second to none... marvellously expansive yet well-focused recording... deserves a strong recommendation".
That's why you need to take so many Penguin Guide huzzahs with a grain of salt.
And there it is: the Science of criticism. The Penguin Guide really liked this CD; Haller did not; therefore we must not trust the Penguin Guide. And the basis for this argument is... uh, I dunno. The implication is that the means by which Haller assesses the worth of a CD is more objective or empirical than that used by the Penguin Guide. We saw this a couple of posts below with Dudamel's Mahler 2 - one guy liked it and the other didn't, so clearly the one guy had a hidden agenda.
Obviously I don't object to the differences of opinion. It's when "I liked it and you didn't" gets mutated into "I'm right and you're wrong" that I start to shake my head sadly. Yes, if one party is an expert and the other's clueless (eg, Ebert vs Transformers fans), then one can be righter than the other, but that's not the scenario we've got here.
And it doesn't take long to find an example to illustrate the silliness of the situation. Haller included on his 2010 Critics' Choice list a Chandos release of Johan Halvorsen's Symphony no.1 and other orchestral works, conducted by Neeme Jarvi. He described the symphony as "a warm-hearted and sweeping performance that will have you wondering "Where has this symphony been all my life?"" Whereas over at Fanfare, James A Altena listened to the same disc and said of the symphony "It is pleasantly tuneful, thoroughly undemanding, and decidedly inconsequential throughout its 35-minute compass, and nothing more need be said of it". Of course, what he did not say was "That's why you need to take so many Steven J Haller huzzahs with a grain of salt".
"But Nereffid", I hear you thunder, "you have to admit the Penguin Guide isn't all it's cracked up to be, and we really do need to take their reviews with a grain of salt".
Well, quite. We need to take everyone's reviews with a grain of salt.
Including our own.

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