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How are you liking this years proms?

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Initial post: 16 Jul 2012 08:59:37 BDT
Last edited by the author on 16 Jul 2012 10:35:10 BDT
Mandryka says:
I went to Pelleas last night with Gardiner.

I thought the conducting had moments of inspiration in Act 3 but on the whole was pretty lackluster. Same for the singing except for John Tomlinson (Arkel). Melisande was OK but not a great singer IMO (I've never seen what the fuss is about with Karen Vourc'h). Same for Golaud (Laurent Naouri.) Phillip Addis as Pelleas was I thought just very poor. Weak voice and no interpretive insights as far as I can see. They had a girl for Yniold, which was yet another disappointment for me.

In a way Tomlinson's presence made the experience worse -- it reminded you of what good singing is like!

Semi staged but absolutely no interesting direction (unlike Gardiner's extraordinary video of the opera from Lyon. That's one of my favourite recordings of it and one of the reasons why I went to the prom.)

The audience was bad too, with people whispering and eating and watch alarms ringing, and prommers leaving in the middle of scenes. I'd say it was less than 3/4 full. There were whole banks of empty seats at the very top.

So altogether not a very inspiring start to this year's season. But what a marvelous opera this is. The quality of the music shone through a performance which was, apart from Tomlinson, workmanlike at best. So I was very glad to have gone.

But not glad enough to go back inside after the interval -- maybe things warmed up for Acts 4 and 5.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Jul 2012 11:37:26 BDT
Listening at home was much the same for me,
pretty lacklustre
(NB. sp)

I found the French diction hard to catch and hence lost much sense of the drama
and I do know the opera well enough to know where I am in terms of the scenes and action.
I was surprised by the lack of applause and can only say that Acts 4 and 5 improved orchestrally ....a bit.
John Tomlinson (Arkel) did steal the evening , especially the final scene which might have made it worth you sticking with it.

Posted on 16 Jul 2012 12:37:54 BDT
Last edited by the author on 16 Jul 2012 12:41:49 BDT
Mandryka says:
Yes -- lackluster must be american spelling, because I noticed the mistake but was surprised when the spellchecker here didn't highlight it as I typed, so I just left it.

The diction throughout was dégueulasse, except for JT, even from Vourc'h. The final scene, the one with the doctor, is usually the one which I like the least. But now you've made me regret not sticking it out.

Next up for me is Art of Fugue this Saturday afternoon.

Posted on 21 Jul 2012 17:54:07 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 Jul 2012 17:57:53 BDT
Mandryka says:
Art of fugue at Codogan Hall was better, much better, than Pelleas. The Academy of Ancient Music sound wonderful. The orchestration is basically a study in colour, and it's light on emotional depth. But that didn't stop the musicians from finding affekt -- especially the violinists and the cellist and recorder player. Keyboard playing was pretty unimaginative I thought, with one major exception.

For the ending he passed straight from the unfinished fugue to a lovely orchestration of the chorale. I think that's the best way myself -- no attempt to finish it and the music isn't left just hanging in air. The chorale orchestration seem to inspire the keyboard, and at last I heard some meaningful agogics there. It was beautiful.

Worth catching -- there are some magic moments, especially, as I say, where the string players are given the chance to show what they can do.

Posted on 4 Aug 2012 03:13:27 BDT
S. R. Tulip says:
As Eric Morecambe would say - RUBBISH.

Posted on 4 Aug 2012 04:24:23 BDT
JayJayDee says:
Well of course with that comment Eric Morecambe was making deliberate and sophisticated fun of his adopted ignorance.

Posted on 7 Aug 2012 00:25:00 BDT
Paul B says:
I thought that period instrument Water and Fireworks music was a bit rubbish though. Awfully out of tune horns. I was looking forward to it too. That Herve Niquet is a strange one isn't he.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Aug 2012 06:12:08 BDT
Last edited by the author on 7 Aug 2012 06:12:37 BDT
enthusiast says:
There have been no comments on the Baremboim Beethoven series which has also been shown on the TV. I have enjoyed it quite a lot - and rather more than I enjoyed his CD set. Does the silence on this forum indicate that I am in a minority?

Some of the other Proms on TV have also been good, I thought and I have been surprised that none of us are talking about them very much.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Aug 2012 09:28:22 BDT
That's probably because most forum members don't actually like 'live' music either in person or via the media,
(see the thread about 'live' recordings).

I get the impression that collectors of recorded music would prefer to forget about the human beings
who perform music to other human beings in actual performance spaces
and who can't guarantee to offer perfect renditions to perfectly behaved audiences, every time.

A dead artist caught like a fly in amber can never disappoint.

And yes the Beethoven cycle was good,
if more inspiring as a socio/political concept than as a rendering of all Beethoven's revolutionary possibilities.
That said, I thought the National Youth Choir performing the finale of the 9th without scores was wonderful
and they should have been immediately booked for the closing ceremony of the Olympics.

Posted on 7 Aug 2012 09:34:18 BDT
The BBC announcer did warn that some might have problems with the tuning in the Handel concert. It would have been helpful and interesting to have had some information about the tuning used, presumably it wasn't equal temperament.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Aug 2012 09:56:51 BDT
Last edited by the author on 7 Aug 2012 09:57:24 BDT
Bella says:
Geoffrey and Stephen: We wondered about the Handel tuning, but assumed that one reason for some of the unusual sounds was the difficulty of playing natural trumpets; these have a fearsome reputation, and there seemed to be about 8, it was amazing that they managed as well as they did! I assume that the horns were likewise not easy. My partner has an excellent musical ear but wasn't prevented from enjoying the whole performance.
We have also been enjoying the Beethoven, again not always highly polished, but with plenty to offer.

Posted on 7 Aug 2012 10:15:58 BDT
Paul B says:
I thought the whole Barenboim/Beethoven cycle was excellent, and have it recorded so that I can watch again. The orchestra layout was interesting wasn't it, with the basses raised up on the left.

There are several period instrument recordings of the Handel suites without intonation issues, some with even larger bands, so I don't know why it was quite so 'off' at the proms. It was an interesting performance nonetheless, and seeing the antique instruments, some of which looked like they had been recently dug out of the ground, was great.

Posted on 7 Aug 2012 10:31:46 BDT
Bella: I am sure the tuning was deliberate but don't know enough about the technicalities to give a confident explanation. The time of Bach and Handel was the period of transition to equal temperament - Bach wrote his two sets of 24 Preludes & Fugues in the Well-Tempered Clavier to demonstrate the new method. Beethoven called Bach the father of Modern Harmony. In the opening to his Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, Britten has the horn play natural harmonics so it sounds slightly out of tune to modern ears.

I have period instrument performances of the Water and Fireworks music and they sound fine, persumably they are using modern tuning.

Posted on 7 Aug 2012 10:45:49 BDT
I was a little less enamoured of Barenboim's Beethoven cycle than some fellow posters. The performances I enjoyed most were of the smaller-scale symphonies (1,2,4,8) which Barenboim clearly sees as major components of the cycle in their own right. The others weren't downright poor but I did find them somewhat flaccid here and there.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Aug 2012 10:48:08 BDT
Last edited by the author on 7 Aug 2012 10:49:03 BDT
Bella says:
Geoffrey: That's certainly a better explanation; I have some vivid memories of modern horns cracking up on the concert platform and rather assumed that their tricky forebears would be harder to manage, but on reflection, I can think of no obvious glitches.
I too struggle with equal temperament which, as you say, came in with Bach; I have even worked my way through some of the preludes and fugues, wondering vaguely what was being demonstrated. There's a story that Menuhin once found himself conducting some kind of folk band and was horrified during rehearsal, telling them they must re-tune. But someone explained the situation to him, and I am happy to say that he adjusted, and the concert was duly given in unequal temperament, or whatever you call it!

Posted on 7 Aug 2012 11:55:11 BDT
Roasted Swan says:
Temperament and pitch throws up many interesting questions regarding perceived 'rightness' of tuning. Different orchestras tune to an A of fractionally different pitch - the typical A-440 is relatively modern. The great early impact of the HIP groups was the use of lower pitch. Not only does this change the characteristics of the instruments involved (lower pitch = lower tension in stringed instruments = less penetrating sound) but also meant certain vocal works could be sung in original keys which modern pitch had taken too high. However, this does throw up the fascinating question of "perfect pitch". This is of course a gift some people have to be able to recognise the pitch of any note played and in part explains Menuhin's issue related above. But if pitch is not absolute and moves over time how can perfect pitch be anything except a kind of intuitively learnt muscle memory for notes. But many people with perfect pitch will tell you they were born with it. Likewise with temperament - this is basically a way of dividing the octave - equal temperament is just as it sounds; 12 divisions which are identical. The theory being that any key will sound the same. The response to the Water Music Prom underlines my biggest bug-bear with the HIP movement - it might be played authentically but it CANNOT be LISTENED to authentically. Not only do we, as a modern audience find it very hard to hear the older temperaments as anything but "out of tune" but also we have none of the awareness of recognising the significance of key. Historically key - with the extra impact/effect of temperament "meant" something. Mozart's use of keys to represent Masonic music is just one well-known example but the further one goes back into musical historical the more imperative an audience's awareness of this becomes. I would bet my mortgage on the fact that the players in the Water Music Prom played brilliantly - the days of sub-standard playing professionally of any kind are long gone - the mixed reception proves that we the listening audience are a long way behind being able to hear authentically.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Aug 2012 13:20:27 BDT
Bella says:
Nick : That's really useful, I have often wondered about keys when works are transposed, presumably altering the composers' intentions. One of my friends plays Northumbrian pipes in traditional folk and grumbles about equal temperament, but I hadn't appreciated that the earlier system also requires more perceptive listening. Incidentally I wasn't thinking of incompetent brass in the Handel, but wondering whether the old instruments were just too temperamental to be fully controllable; having said that, I should have remembered hearing Madeuf steal the show on a natural trumpet in a Baroque concert a few years ago, assorted singers, as well as the orchestra and choir, sounded quite ordinary by comparison.

Posted on 7 Aug 2012 14:50:52 BDT
Paul B says:
Thank you Nick. That certainly makes some sense to me. Although I find HIP interesting, I have to admit a certain degree of cynicism concerning how close it actually comes to what an 18th century audience might have heard. My cynicism might be slightly less if it wasn't for the fact that so many different period bands playing the same piece sound so totally different.

Surely any 18th century orchestral player would go to whatever means necessary to get the very best sound possible out of his instrument as you would expect a present day player to do?

Posted on 7 Aug 2012 15:50:23 BDT
Paul: Most 18th century orchestral players were badly paid part-timers. The ones who had a permanent job were just usually just another servant, possibly with other duties. Some aristocratic enthusiasts had crack orchestras (such as Mannheim) where the players were well-trained and paid; they were the minority. Even in the 19th century Berlioz described some pretty wretched orchestras with incompetents, part-timers, time-servers, decrepit wretches too poor to retire etc

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Aug 2012 17:12:00 BDT
Bella says:
Goeffrey: Do you know where, and how, 18th and 19thC musicians trained? I gather that there were some well-thought-of teachers but doubt there were all that many, and of course students had to find a way to live. My impression is that proper music-schools appeared relatively late on, though I have never looked into the matter. Maybe musical parents organised, or even undertook, the training?

Posted on 7 Aug 2012 17:33:10 BDT
I'm not sure how they were trained. It seemed to be a family business with the Bach's as the outstanding examples. Beethoven and Mozart were both the sons of musicians and taught by their fathers. Leopold Mozart wrote a well known book on violin playing which presumably was used by music teachers. I get the impression that music teachers were also practising musicians and probably not much better off. Mozart and Beethoven taught young aristocrats but their pupils weren't doing it as the way into a profession. They were usually aristocratic young ladies who learnt to play and 'compose' in much the same way they learnt French and needlework.

The Paris Conservatoire was founded in 1795 though it had roots as a royal institution going back much further when presumably it trained musicians for the court. Louis XIV did have a band of highly trained musicians but he had vast resources and spent them lavishly.
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