Thursday, September 22, 2011

Speak for yourself

Another rule for critics to follow. There may be a manifesto in this, or at least a doctoral thesis.
Our naughty reviewer this time is Robert Levine in International Record Review, who takes on Claudio Abbado's new recording of Fidelio on Decca:
I fear I could be in the minority when I state that I find this performance almost clinical.
and, later,
As I said, I suspect some colleagues will adore this clean, unaffected, almost bel canto-like reading but I think that, at its core, it misreads Beethoven's intentions.
It's good for a critic to be aware of what others might think - and good for the reader, too, who may be able to judge which side they might be on. It's a well-written review in that sense, giving the reader plenty of information to make up their own mind rather than accept the review as divine writ. But Levine blots his copybook a bit with this:
The entire 'Er sterbe' sequence is, as mentioned above, unimpeachably delivered, but that's just what it does not need: this is a moment of mania, surprise, intensity and horror, and we find ourselves being amazed at its clarity and not at its emotional content.
Wait a minute, what's this "we" business? By switching from "I" to "we" he's pulling the reader over to his side. More than that, he's shifted from personal subjectivity to something closer to universal objectivity. Surely the "some colleagues" are not to be counted among the "we"?
And again:
the final scene is joyous and gloriously played and sung, but it doesn't drive the listener wild, as it should and invariably does.
(Let's be sufficiently pedantic to bring up his use of "invariably", but not belabour it any more than that) He means, obviously, "this particular listener". Doesn't he?
Trivial points, you might argue. And in fact in the case of this review, I'd agree, but it does illustrate how even the conscientious critic can slip into omniscient mode. Yes, it would waste rather a lot of ink for every "This is rubbish" to be replaced with "I think this is rubbish", but it would be nice if reviewers were in general more aware that, ultimately, this is just some guy's opinion.
Maybe I've been a scientist too long.

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