Saturday, 9 July 2011
Winners and losers?
No, we supposedly civilized people don't USE such terms, do we (vide that splendid movie Little Miss Sunshine), least of all in the hallowed halls of Radio 3's CD Review, where the word 'winner' is out of bounds. Nevertheless, as they say, a sop is needed to the public at the end of Building a Library, and usually I end up saying, this is my personal choice but I would have been equally happy with x, y and z. Not so for the suites-incarnation of Bizet's L'Arlesienne, I have to say, where the sophisticated beauty of Abbado's LSO left everyone else - Beecham included - some way behind.
And you may have found it odd that I made so much of Tommy's failure to use a Provencal side drum instead of a mimsy tambourine in the middle of the Pastorale. QED: hope the Cluytens alternative made the point. Is anyone going to complain that I didn't spend long enough on the complete incidental music? Well, combining suites and original was always going to be problematic - though nowhere near as bad as the first time I 'did' Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet and was supposed to jump between ballet and concert-hall versions, very different - but made a lot simpler by the fact that the best of the two available had a German text, and that the alternative, Plasson, was as usual a bit sleepy and out of focus.
In the world of the play, the melodrama metamorphoses on Frederi's and L'Innocent's themes enrich our understanding of Bizet's subtlety but are too snippety to work in anything other than a semi-staged version with actors. Still, I'm very glad to have got to know them, and to love Bizet's incomparable woodwind writing even more. The complete Building a Library is here on the Radio 3 iPlayer for the next week; go to about the 34 minute mark to hear Andrew McGregor's introduction (with apologies for the spoiler above if you hadn't wanted to know the no. 1 choice)
Have you noticed how journalists spend far too much time accentuating the negative? 'What's your worst/Which composer do you really hate/What would you NOT take with you on a Desert Island?' are the most frequently asked questions. At best it's a bit of fun, but usually all it serves to do is to emphasise the blind spots of the writer. And never more so than in the BBC Music Magazine's latest attempt to get the critics to say what bores them. The disclaimer 'one man's meat is another man's poison' doesn't fail to conceal the fact that in nine cases out of ten the last laugh is on the disliker, unless he or she expresses that aversion in golden prose. Good grief, many of these pet hates are among my biggest loves: Tristan, Butterfly, Cenerentola, Strauss's Don Quixote, Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Mahler 8, Bruckner 7 (though admittedly the Britten and the Bruckner, like the Brahms German Requiem also cited, can sound awful in ponderous or frigid hands, but that's not the fault of the music)...
The only one I half agree with is Fiona Maddocks in her insistence that Purcell's Dido and Aeneas needs to cut to the chase and 'When I am laid in earth' which is, of course, one of the supreme laments of all time. Let's hear it for La Connolly at the 2009 Last Night of the Proms.
My other problem pieces? Quite a few, from Monteverdi's Return of Ulysses via Beethoven's Violin, Third Piano and Emperor Concertos (torpid slow movements especially) to Glass's Satyagraha. But I freely admit that, with the possible exception of glassy Phil, whose bland experiment I'd argue as tied to its time and place (move on, Mr Glass, evolve), blind spots they remain.