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CLASSICAL  April 2007

CLASSICAL April 2007

Subject:

Re: Too Much to Handel

From:

Christopher Webber <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 21 Apr 2007 00:37:03 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (63 lines)

Roger Hecht writes:

>Thinking about it now, I don't really know why Handel operas are being
>recorded in such numbers.

With the exception of those few which by reason of their fame boast more
than a couple or so recordings, Handel's operas have all got recorded
because of their quality, sure - but more because of the need for novelty.
Who'd have thought we'd ever have a "Riccardo Primo" available on CD?
The reference books told us it was just about his worst opera, and I
suppose it pretty much is; but it turns out to be very nearly as strong
and distinctive as the rest of them!

And in an age saturated with old and marvellous Bohemes, Barbers and
Butterflies, there is very little demand (or dare I say need?) to throw
good money into the recording wishing-well for those pieces once again.

>I'm not saying that HIP recordings all have these problems or even most
>or for that matter half--whatever--but rather that being HIP gives a
>performance a huge leg up on a "modern" performance that may be
>superior on musical grounds but is dismissed on "correctness" grounds.
>It's like a requirement for admission.

Without getting into the HIP versus "modern" argument again, isn't it
right to say that this particular battle has been fought and finished,
at least until the next revolution comes round?  Aren't genuinely "modern"
performances these days - e.g.  Zinman's wondrous Zurich Beethoven cycle
- pretty close sonically to new HIP efforts, which have in their turn
got much less scrawny since the pioneer days?

At any rate, whatever the instrumental pitch, the actual *sound* of
these truly "modern" performances is lighter, tempi are faster, repeats
more slavishly observed, balance more woodwind-oriented ... the list
goes on. When today's Berlin Philharmonic strings play Beethoven or
Mozart under Rattle or whoever else, they employ a modified, relatively
vibrato-free sound, cleaner, less rich and weighty of tone.

So when we talk about really "modern" (i.e. 21st century) playing, isn't
it true to say that the gap to HIP has narrowed to a mere sliver of what
it was - or seemed to be - in the 1960's? And this "modern" style is not
just influenced by HIP playing, but by contemporary social mores and
changing aural tastes in the wider world.

I myself find it easier to really sit up and listen to HIP-influenced
Zinman, who's achievement is to make the greatest symphony cycle sound
new-minted for our time once again, than revisit the "great", monumental
cycles of the 1950's and 60's.  This isn't a question of right, wrong
or "correctness" so much as a function of contemporary style - call it
fashion if you will, but you can't deny its potency or dismiss it as
trivial.  It's everything to do with the world in which we live, the
here-and-now of it.  Doubtless Zinman will sound equally outmoded in 50
years time; but then I for one won't be around to regret that next turn
of fashion's wheel!

"THE ZARZUELA COMPANION" (Scarecrow Press)
Christopher Webber, Foreword by Placido Domingo
http://www.zarzuela.net

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