Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What's in this month's Gramophone?

From the March, 2008 issue...

  • In the editorial, James Inverne laments Arts Council England's budget cuts. Live by the state funding sword, die by the state funding sword I always say. "State funding calls for enlightened decisions, not bullish balance-sheets. Yet private funding, as happens in America, is also vulnerable - not least to the tastes of the donors." Leaving aside the childish need for assurance - what in life isn't "vulnerable"? - notice the implicit authoritarian approach to art. The Enlightened Ones need to be in charge. Can you imagine if regular people (the donors) had their say?
  • Well, that was a weak editorial. How about the Letters section? John Baker of Folkestone speculates that Karajan may have cried more than twice in his life. A bold claim, but I won't challenge it.
  • The Taking Note section quotes from an Independent article about a Barbie at the Symphony concert in Glasgow (little girls dress up and go to listen to Nutcracker and Swan Lake excerpts.) The predictable cheap cynicism about Barbie is there but check out how the blurb ends: "At least two in the audience in Glasgow were not impressed: 'cheesy' and 'weird' according to Micaela, 10 and her eight-year-old sister Cosima." Macaela? Cosima?! Yeah, these kids were picked totally at random. (I'm sure the next issue will report kids going to a Wagner concert and being blown away - "totally cool!" reports 9 year-old Isolde. Her younger brothers, Siegfried and Lohengrin, nod in agreement.)
  • Simon Rattle: "With Wagner I chose not to know [about his life] because I find the more I know about him as a human being, the harder it is to conduct his astonishing music. With Mahler I really chose to know because I find that it enlightens. And Wagner's music is transcendentally beautiful and very often deeply benevolent and good and I don't think any of those phrases could be used about him as a person. That's really a mystery, whereas Mahler as a personality is so completely tied up with his music that I find it helpful." I get my back up every time I read an evaluation of Wagner's character because they're usually so facile, but his larger point here is true. Is Mahler's character being so much in the music something inherent or could it be we've made it that way as part of the re-evaluation of his music that started in the 1960's? The question's not rhetorical - I don't know enough about pre-1960s Mahler reception to know if words like "neurotic" were thrown around to describe both the man and the music. (And anyone who uses words like "transcendent" and "astonishing" when talking about Wagner's music obviously is on to something.)
  • A review of a La Scala Barbiere with Callas arouses perverse curiosity: "Rossi-Lemeni['s]... appallingly hammed-up performance is followed by a near riot as the anti-Callas claque gives him the kind of tumultuous reception Callas had signally failed to receive after 'Una voce poco fa'. In the singing lesson in Act 2, Callas sings a cut-down version of Rossini's own 'Contro un cor', a tone up in E. It is not well done. Dr. Bartolo's response 'Bella voce!' is asking for trouble from the gallery. The singer, Melchiorre Luise, attempts a rebuttal by spitting out his next line 'Certo, bella voce': a riposte which is met with further jeers from the gallery. ... Giulini, an unwilling conscript, appears to have neither the will nor the ability to control a performance where the singers are playing fast and loose with the corrupt and foreshortened text that in Milan in 1956 passed for an "edition". Profil's reissue is almost as inept....." Put this one on the Christmas list, friends.

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