Saturday, March 17, 2012

Nereffid, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Michael Scott Rohan walk into a bar...

Way the hell back in September 2010 I posted something in my "Did you even listen to the same CD?" series, in which Dmitri Hvorostovsky's disc "Pushkin Romances" was subjected to widely contrasting opinions: Michael Scott Rohan in BBC Music Magazine loved it ("compelling delivery... passionate, brooding or forceful with Pushkin's flowing lines"), while David Fanning in Gramophone hated it ("if you want a disc to reinforce your prejudice that Russian song is all cloying self-indulgence, here it is"). I noticed just the other day - I am a very bad blogger - that a couple of months ago Mr Scott Rohan had commented on that post. An excerpt:
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.
Well it's always gratifying when someone in the real world takes notice of what you write, so thanks to Michael Scott Rohan for that (And yes, Nigel, it's the same Michael Scott Rohan you're thinking of). And now I can chuckle at the coincidence of opening the latest issue of BBC Music Magazine to find a 4-star review of Dmitri Hvorostovsky's new disc of Rachmaninov songs in which one Michael Scott Rohan says
the danger here is uniformity, even monotony, especially with a dark-hued, reflective composer like Rachmaninov and a language like Russian. This might explain why previous Dmitri Hvorostovsky recitals have met with some remarkably extreme criticism, even condemnation of the whole of Russian song as sentimental or worse. Such extremism seems to reflect a poor understanding of Russian poetic and musical traditions, and this recital's well placed to correct it.

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