David Harbin writes:
>So it is gratifying to read in the latest Private Eye (23 Nov, p14):
> "... Then there are the critics who were duped, not least
> Gramophone's Bryce Morrison, who eulogised Hatto's release of
> Rachmaninov's 3rd piano concerto in a feature for Intelligent
> Life magazine as "among the finest on record", while condemning
> a Yefim Bronfman recording as feeble. As we now know, the Hatto
> release and the Bronfman recording were one and the same, which
> leaves Morrison distinctly egg-faced ..."
As a critic of some sort myself, I am quite familiar with the gotcha
that exists among those who read criticism. I've been caught myself a
few times, and hey, I've given out some along the way--most of it before
I became a critic, by the way. Once you start writing criticism, you
are so exposed--much like a musician is. It's so easy to slip. A simple
fact forgotten or not known, a perception altered over time--though you
try to be expert in everything you write about. And its just so easy
to be wrong. Tonal memory is tricky. Mere seconds after hearing
something, we forget many of the essentials. You play one recording
of a piece, then another, and find you forgot important elements of the
first one and have to go back. Sometimes this happens over and over.
It can be so time consuming and frustrating.
People interested in audio equipment have the same problem. Listen
to one amp, then another, then...what was that I heard in the first
amp again? Back and forth you go. It happens from the playing end,
too. As a trombonist, I've gone back and forth with mouthpieces,
leadpipes, whatever...do I prefer the sound of this one or that one?
Back and forth. Same when listening to my wife comparing viola bows.
I just got a new horn (actually an old one). Loved it out of the case
and still do. What a pleasant change. Some times it's so hard to tell.
(One rule with audio equipment and horns. If you can't tell after several
switches give up and move on.)
So, yes, I can see Bryce Morrison (about whom I know nothing) make the
kind of mistake noted above. It is so easy to be fooled. As Christopher
pointed out, the mindset you bring to a recording can influence you
greatly. We try to be objective but music by its nature is not an objective
art in many ways. So many emotional factors are involved, and it's hard
to draw the line. When Seiji Ozawa was conducting the Boston Symphony,
I disliked him so much generally that I found it hard to acknowledge his
occasional good performance. It was like pulling teeth for me sometimes,
sad to say.
Christopher also mentioned how a difference in the recorded sound of
the same performance can be confusing. That brings back an unhappy memory.
I forget the details, but I remember in an overview of Stravinsky comparing
two recordings of a work, only to be informed by a reader that they were
of the same performance! Horrified, I regathered the two and sure enough,
the literature with both confirmed that they were the same performance.
The masterings, however, were different--and dammit, they sounded
different. They still do. I even played them for my wife and a few
other people. None recognized that they were the same performance.
So I felt better. I wasn't a complete idiot after all.
So why am I clenching my teeth now?
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