Thursday, June 24, 2004

Two musical rants

[1] I don't understand why the classical music world is so infatuated with John Eliot Gardiner. He's a decent conductor, but not a great one.

While I respect his work with "historically informed performances," it seems just as apparent to my ear that he's too much of a literalist. I just listened to a recent disc where he conducts psalm settings by Boulanger and Stravinsky--and it's some of the flattest performances I've heard in recent months. The pieces just drag on unconscionably; when a dramatic surge in intensity is called for, Gardiner either prefers to chug along as if nothing was happening, or overdo it and go over-the-top. The result is heavy and cold, not brooding and despairing (as these pieces should be).

[2] Having finally heard the piece, I don't understand the music critics who have described Peter Warlock's The Curlew as the bleakest piece of vocal music ever written. I respectfully disagree.

It's true that The Curlew makes you want to jump off a cliff (in the proverbial sense). However, by contrast, in Shostakovich's Fourteenth Symphony (really a song cycle with chamber orchestra), someone actually does jump off a cliff. By the end of the symphony, you want to slit your wrists, before the music rips your heart out in the penultimate movement and then bashes your head in for the finale.

Now that's what I call bleak.


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