Monday, March 26, 2012

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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"You wouldn't want to encourage this sort of thing"

So, of the 1,542 discs on the long list for the 2011 Nereffid's Guide Awards, 38 (= 2.5%) received the best possible review from one source and the worst possible review from another. (There was complete consensus on 97 discs, as it happens). In some cases, critical opinion spanned the entire spectrum - such as in Mikhail Pletnev's Tchaikovsky 5 on PentaTone and Gustavo Dudamel's Tchaikovsky/Shakespeare disc on DG. But in other cases there was general praise with one dissent. Here's some examples.

Rachmaninov: Piano concertos 3 & 4. Leif Ove Andsnes; London SO/Antonio Pappano [EMI]
Ian Lace on MusicWeb (a Recording of the Month): "
the partnership of Andsnes and Pappano delivers a beautifully-judged, nicely-balanced reading of heroic power and beauty. Andsnes’s fleet and tigerish playing dazzles. There are so many little delights, so many cherishable nuances in this reading."
Richard A Kaplan in Fanfare: "The opening solo serves as a template for the entire enterprise; there is no phrasing of the melody, just a succession of notes. ... And so it goes: Technical passages are too aggressive, lyrical ones given short shrift."

Debussy, Ravel, Dutilleux: String quartets. Arcanto Quartet [Harmonia Mundi]
This got top ratings from Classics Today France, Scherzo (Spain), and Pizzicato (Luxembourg).
Fanfare's Boyd Pomeroy: "The Debussy receives a dream performance, of silken refinement and great subtlety of expression - a very French kind of animation and inflection of line, minutely attentive to nuances of dynamics, articulation, and tempo modification. ... The Ravel is every bit as good, a textural and coloristic feast"
ARG's Gil French: "... insufficient articulation that turned the sound into a legato blur. The more I listened, the more I realized that the players themselves have a very poor feel for balance. In the Debussy and Ravel both the first violinist and cellist underplay their more tender lines to such a degree that I had to force myself to even notice them. Even worse is that the Arcanto Quartet have a very poor feel for pulse. Tempos shift constantly, destroying each movement's continuity".

Mozart: Piano concertos nos.14, 15 and 21. Christian Zacharias (p); Lausanne Chamber Orchestra [MDG]
Earned a Diapason d'Or, a 10/10 from Classics Today, and an Outstanding from International Record Review.
IRR's Nigel Simeone: "playing [from Zacharias] of disciplined energy, refinement and faultless, even-toned technique. ... Altogether, this is some of the most distinguished Mozart piano concerto playing I've heard in recent years"
ARG's Donald Vroon: "So here is the latest sterile style of playing applied to Mozart's lovely concertos - and it stinks... The pianist is choppy and never plays a phrase, just a pile of unconnected, mechanical-sounding notes. ... This is simply dreadful. Don't encourage this kind of sterile dogmatism by buying it."

Schubert: Rosamunde. Musikkollegium Winterthur/Douglas Boyd [MDG]
Both Victor Carr on Classics Today and Donald Vroon in ARG agree that the best recording of Rosamunde is the Münchinger/VPO one on Decca. But for Carr, the Münchinger is "the only serious rival to this new recording", whereas Vroon opines "This new one is not even worth considering".
"Hearing the three dramatic chords that open the Zauberharfe overture played by this excellent Swiss orchestra (the oldest in Switzerland) I was immediately struck by the clarity of attack and rich instrumental color. As the performance progresses the Musikkollegium Winterthur exhibits an alluring full-bodied tone and characterful playing completely in the Schubertian style."
Vroon: "Atrocious. This is another misconceived fad recording; don't buy it - you wouldn't want to encourage this sort of thing. ... conductors like Boyd are determined to uglify our music - even romantic music like this. SACD sound is no help when the orchestra is made to play like a baroque band and sounds so terrible."

Musical architecture

Yes, I know you're very excited about season 2 of Game of Thrones, but this isn't a new set design. It's one of a series of images taken from inside musical instruments, commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic.
A gallery of images is here.