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Is >>a feeling of emotional abandon<< the state of the art?

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Showing 1-16 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 24, 2012 2:28:16 PM PDT
Lynn René Bayley on Fanfare's website wrote about a new recording of Dvorak's cello concerto and The Water Goblin. In Nature's Realm * 1 Zuill Bailey (vc); Jun Märkl, cond; Indianapolis SO * TELARC :

>>Fine nuance, excellent phrasing and pacing, and as always, that gorgeous tone so reminiscent of Feuermann. But something is lacking: a feeling of emotional abandon, of the wild sway of the music, that even Feuermann achieved with a pickup orchestra under the direction of his friend Michael Taube. Yet I lay the failure of this performance much more at the feet of Jun Märkl, one of those postmodern conductors for whom every piece of music is a slick, polished, metronomic, and featureless blob of sound. Oh yes, Märkl draws a beautiful tone from the Indianapolis orchestra. But so do Paavo Järvi, Gustavo Dudamel, and roughly 45 other youngish conductors. They're selling classical to an audience that grew up on rock music, for whom classical does not mean anything emotional. <<

I'm among that audience who grew up on rock music and later entered the realm of classical music. And I know a few other people here went the same way...

But what do you all think about this reviewers point of view?
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Posted on May 24, 2012 2:59:56 PM PDT
Dichterliebe says:
I'm not sure why she (I'm assuming 'Lynn' is a she -- a dangerous proposition around here) is using the term 'postmodern', as the term implies an allusion to historicism rather than the stereotypical modern music devoid of the emotional trappings of the 19th century it reacted against. Also, she writes "They're selling to an audience...not mean anything emotional", referring to Jarvi, Dudamel, etc. apart from Markl, with the criticism that '...classical does not mean anything emotional." So is she likening Markl to the other conductors she mentions or is she distinguishing them?

To the larger point: emotional potency is relative. Sentimental performance styles are cyclical, just as are the habits of adding notes, playing one's own cadenzas instead of the composer's, coolly detached playing, HIP, and other trends. These trends come and go, but I do think many performances I've heard in the last 20 years or so tend to be cold and workmanlike, with emphases on technical brilliance and CD-like perfection rather than convincing an audience of musical power. The inordinate attention on very young players of technically difficult music is another contributing factor, as are agents and marketing departments of recording labels. Much of the music business is indeed very efficient and with low margins and small audiences, our arguably most emotional music, classical, is harmed.

Posted on May 24, 2012 3:11:54 PM PDT
Soucient says:
I, too, was confused as to whether she was lumping all the other conductors in with her criticism of Markl.

Do you think that, perhaps, these younger musicians, whose interests now seem to lie mostly with technique, will mature into more sensitive, nuanced performers when they have a little age on them? As they develop emotionally themselves, then they may be significantly better at interpreting the emotional aspects that may be inherent in the music they are playing.

Just a thought.

In reply to an earlier post on May 24, 2012 3:13:04 PM PDT
Dichterliebe asks:
>>So is she likening Markl to the other conductors she mentions or is she distinguishing them?<<

She is definately likening Markl to Jarvi and Dudamel, but she ends the review with this sentence:

>>Ah, Zuill, if only you had recorded this with Gergiev or John Nelson (the former music director of Indianapolis) ... that would have been something!<<

So there are some conductors alive today that she likes - but Gergiev is turning 60 next year (- I don't know how old Nelson is...), so he doesn't count as young.

Posted on May 24, 2012 3:16:05 PM PDT
Lez Lee says:
Nelson is 70.

In reply to an earlier post on May 24, 2012 3:50:18 PM PDT
Edgar Self says:
Zuill Bailey is a good cellist; I have his recital CD with piano and won't comment on his Dvorak until I hear it. I don't have much faith in Lynn Rene Bayley's reviews. Bailey/Bayley. Bayley has been severely criticised by some of her colleagues ono "Fanfare". I like her more than than the egocentric Jerry Dubins, but not by much.

Emanuel Feuermann, "the Heifetz of the cello", first recorded Dvorak's concerto with his piano accompanist-conductor Taube around 1928. There's a later live Feuermann recording of it with Chicago Symphony and Hans Lange, their assistant conductor, from about 1941, and naturally in better sound.

I like "In Nature's Realm", sometimes called by its German title "Aus der Natur".

Posted on May 25, 2012 4:53:58 AM PDT
scarecrow says:
many of the writers drawn to Fanfare Mag indulge in cliche, shibbolleths of their own language conceptual making, tried and tested buzzes hacked, jacked phrases, misunderstood ideological references as "postmodern conductor" What's that?;Sir Georg Solti, Bernstein,Boulez,were they post-modern?
I don';t think I'd like a Dvorak Cello Concerto that was full of indulgent abandon, that's a cliche, "the romantic "abandon", letting yourself go, live a little, throw your head backwards after the impassioned phrase you just played; bob your head;
But the music critic- writers first reason to exist is to be provocative, provoking in some way;

Posted on May 25, 2012 6:18:50 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 25, 2012 6:20:40 AM PDT
I am a Fanfare subscriber; Bayley writes upwards of 100 reviews every issue. She is an older woman, based on what she says in her reviews, that was probably raised on 78s. She adores Toscanini, the metaphor for letting it fly emotionally. When she says Markl and the cellist aren't outgoing enough in the concerto, she means it isn't loud, fast and verbose enough for her.

She may challenge that assertion but it's the simplest way I can put it. I read all the same stuff about new recordings of Elgar's cello concerto when critics are disappointed they aren't as loud, verbose and emotionally charged as DuPre's famous version.

To me, Bayley's assertion means the recording didn't satisfy her even though she admits it has all sorts of positive traits including, "Fine nuance, excellent phrasing and pacing, and as always, that gorgeous tone so reminiscent of Feuermann." If you know what you are looking for in the Dvoark concerto, this should tell you everything you need to know about whether or not this recording will satisfy you. If you are new to it, I don't think this review is all that helpful.

For me, a person that has owned a half-dozen recordings of the work and heard lots of Dvorak, the review is perfect: it tells me what I need to know. Having said that, it tells me a lot more about Bayley, with whom I've crossed hairs a few times in correspondence over her reviews. If you disagree with a review in Fanfare, you can write the editor an email and be just about guaranteed a response. It will probably be published in a following issue, too.

In the bigger picture, I think a review like this is extremely helpful even though it may be considered negative -- if you fully understand what the reviewer wants and is saying. When I read Fanfare and American Record Guide and come across a negative review (or a positive one), it helps best if I know the reviewer's preference. That tells me more about whether the recording will appeal to me. Reviews that are critical but offer no alternative(s) are the ones I find least helpful.

Posted on May 25, 2012 6:34:00 AM PDT
I just realized that the title I gave this thread was a misunderstanding:
"Is >>a feeling of emotional abandon<< the state of the art?"

It should have read something like:
"Is there a lack of emotion in recent recordings by young artists?" or something like that...

In reply to an earlier post on May 25, 2012 6:40:46 AM PDT
carnola says:
Larry, Rasmus, et al,

I'm also a Fanfare (and American Record Guide) subscriber--have been for about 20 years. Before that, I used to just buy at newsstand until they became too hard to find. I've noticed in the information that each has to publish periodically that their subscribers are fewer than 5,000 (if I'm recalling correctly). Wonder how many of them participate in this forum??

Agree that getting to know their tastes/writing styles is helpful in figuring out how to interpret their reviews.

Posted on May 25, 2012 7:12:04 AM PDT
<<I just realized that the title I gave this thread was a misunderstanding: It should have read something like: "Is there a lack of emotion in recent recordings by young artists?" or something like that...>>

On that account, I might say yes. When I look at the body of work for my current interests, I think the average interpretation is more neutral today than in the past and tends to be more streamlined as opposed to visceral or individual. I don't listen to Wagner opera and I'd be interested to know what anyone with that interest has to say in that regard. I do listen to the symphonies of Anton Bruckner and can attest that most new century interpretations tend to be slower, more mellow and less fervent than anything Furtwangler was doing after the war.

In many areas of music, especially in Baroque and Classical era scores, I think the period performance movement has helped this trend. Also, the plethora of new recordings available for just about anything popular adds to it.

Another aspect of this is the modern emphasis on youth culture, which carries over to classical music. A younger performer can't be expected to be what a Bernstein, Casals or Cortot became in their maturity. My experience is younger performers tend to have less personality in performance. Again, the PPP movement, with its emphasis on doing exactly as the score suggests, probably contributes to this.

Getting back to Bayley's review, she was talking about the Romantic era composer Dvorak. If you listen to the Rostropovich-Karajan version of the cello concerto and compare it to the one she reviewed, the former is probably bigger, bolder, louder and more in your face -- the qualities she said Zuill Bailey and Jun Märkl lacked. Bailey is American and Märkl was born German. A lot of people think only a fellow Czech national can get the Czech angst out of Dvorak.

Being of Czech heritage, I have paid attention to Czech music outside Dvorak. There is a history of Czech conductors playing the stuff as loudly as they can; Talich and Kubelik were among these practitioners. This isn't to say they lacked other qualities, just that they steamed it up when appropriate.

In reply to an earlier post on May 27, 2012 2:58:23 AM PDT

I think you are right - generally speaking permances have become more streamlined and impersonal. But there are exceptions like the Gavriel Lipkind Bach cello suites which I am enjoying more and more for each time I listen to them while at the same time they sound stranger and stranger.

One thing that is very strange if you think about is how recordings from a certain decade sound alike despite the fact that we know very little about how classical music was actually interpreted when it was new.

As you point out this development of musical interpretation has been going on as the period movement emerged. The anonymous approach might be a misinterpretation of the HIP ideas. But you can actually find many, many period performances with great personality. --- Jordi Savall comes to mind as a conductor and musician who has great personality.

About nationalism in music: I am Danish and my favorite and only recording of the Nielsen symphonies are played by the San Francisco Symphony ! (with Herbert Blomstedt).

Posted on May 27, 2012 5:26:54 AM PDT
Joe Anthony says:
"Is >>a feeling of emotional abandon<< the state of the art?"

I say:

I guess there are two schools of thought on this. One idea is to allow the composer to express himself; that the musician's job is to play the notes and play the notes full and precise and be faithful to the score. The other idea is that the musician should come to feel something and bring a sense of his or her own creativity, imagination to the score; in this second idea, the musician is not so much playing the composer as much as he or she is communing with the composer.

To me, it's ironic that while the bulk of the classical music repertoire is taken from the Romantic and late-Romantic eras, that very little of it has been recorded in the Romantic style of interpretation. Conductors of the 19th century such as Mendelssohn, Wagner, Hans Von Bulow and Mahler were not literal in the sense that Toscanini was when he said in regard to Beethoven's 3rd Symphony: "Some say it is Napoleon...I call it "allegro con brio'."

Indeed, according to Harold Schoenberg, "The conducting of both [Wagner and Mahler] might sound startling to today's ears."

Posted on May 27, 2012 3:28:36 PM PDT
Soucient says:
This reference to Toscanini and tempo reminds me that, in general, I would rather a piece be played too fast than too slow--keeping in mind that "fast" and "slow" are, for the most part, subjective.

Many times I've regretted that music I'm hearing is played so slowly that it "falls apart". That is to say that the arch of the phrase, or the trajectory of the melody is almost imperceptible. Obviously, there is a rather wide degree of latitude here. Unless there is a large disparity between what I have come to expect and what I hear, I am not too picky. But when something is excruciatingly slow, as if the conductor wants to pound home the fact that this is SERIOUS music, I am quite disappointed.

Just a quirk of mine, perhaps?

In reply to an earlier post on May 28, 2012 3:46:38 PM PDT
carnola says:
One good thing about erring on the fast side is that if the performance is bad or the composition not to your liking, it's over quicker!

In reply to an earlier post on May 28, 2012 3:54:04 PM PDT
KenOC says:
The phrase "emotional abandon" in the thread title is interesting. I've read that there's a popular image of Beethoven working, wild-eyed and hair in disarray, "like some wild poet." In fact, the force of his music seems to me to be increased by the iron control he exercises almost everywhere.

Or maybe it's just that "emotional abandon" is foreign to the classical period?
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Discussion in:  Classical Music forum
Participants:  10
Total posts:  16
Initial post:  May 24, 2012
Latest post:  May 28, 2012

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