Bland, Blah, Deadpan

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Modernistfan
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Bland, Blah, Deadpan

Post by Modernistfan » Tue Jun 30, 2020 5:25 pm

Yesterday, I was driving to work and a recording of "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" came on the radio. I started thinking, "What a bland, blah, deadpan performance, played seemingly without any expression, as though robots were playing." I then thought, "This must be a period-instrument performance." When I got to work, I checked the website of the station, and, sure enough, it was a performance by the Canadian period-instrument ensemble Tafelmusik. What is the basis for this trope seemingly followed by so many period-instrument groups that any expression in performances of music of the Classical period (Mozart or Haydn, generally) is completely verboten?

maestrob
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Re: Bland, Blah, Deadpan

Post by maestrob » Wed Jul 01, 2020 12:57 pm

Modernistfan wrote:
Tue Jun 30, 2020 5:25 pm
Yesterday, I was driving to work and a recording of "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" came on the radio. I started thinking, "What a bland, blah, deadpan performance, played seemingly without any expression, as though robots were playing." I then thought, "This must be a period-instrument performance." When I got to work, I checked the website of the station, and, sure enough, it was a performance by the Canadian period-instrument ensemble Tafelmusik. What is the basis for this trope seemingly followed by so many period-instrument groups that any expression in performances of music of the Classical period (Mozart or Haydn, generally) is completely verboten?
So much of music-making today involves just getting the notes right, without regard to emotional content. What I look for in performances or recordings is a sense of personal involvement, and yes, I'm happy to say, I'm still finding it, even in period instrument performances. The reviews I post reflect that taste, and I hope that you and others here benefit from those recommendations. One weak performance does not IMHO, negate the many fiery renditions of the finest period instrument groups thathave, I think, advanced our understanding of Vivaldi, Mozart, Haydn, and even Beethoven.

Mustn't give up hope! :D

slofstra
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Re: Bland, Blah, Deadpan

Post by slofstra » Thu Jul 02, 2020 3:06 pm

Well, now ...

I happen to love Tafelmusik, but their approach may not lend itself well to every piece, so I'll refrain from commenting on 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik'. I saw them perform at a Master Class at our local university to which the public was invited. They certainly CAN play expressively when they want to.

One of the first purchases I ever made was Tafelmusik's Brandenburgs and no one else has ever come close to their recording. At some point I bought a version with Yehudi Menuhin with the Bath Festival Orchestra, which I found appallingly bad. All sense of the polyphonic weaving of various instrumental lines was gone. The violin took over, with the other players in a supporting role. In order to achieve that interplay, you can't take over the piece with a lot of rubato and expressive intonation. Each player has to hear all the other instruments and play in context.

To some extent, we bias our listening to what we first hear and enjoy, and that becomes a template of expectation. Perhaps I could listen to Menuhin play the Brandenburgs today and hear something different. But I doubt it.

You can under-express a piece of music, and the result can be better, in some cases. The approach works with Chopin, although Chopin can be played successfully in different ways. So Chopin might not be a good example. Erik Satie is a better one. Having once heard what Reinbert de Leeuw does with Satie, there can be no going back to the likes of Ciccolini. de Leeuw's performance is transformative in bringing out what Satie wrote. No one can touch de Leeuw when it comes to Satie, and it's also doubtful that de Leeuw can touch anyone else in playing anything other than Satie. But on that one he found the correct, understated approach.

At the other end of the scale is Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn is difficult to play well, and requires great expressive power. The Violin Concerto must be played by a complete gypsy (no disrespect of the Roma people intended) to come off well. It often sounds flat and boring.
The only symphony set that I believe worthwhile is Abbado's.

And Dvorak as well. Having heard Kertesz, there can be no other. Perhaps there is, but Kertesz completely nailed it.

As for Tafelmusik, they need to stay away from Dvorak and Mendelssohn, and to my knowledge they have. At the fringe of their comfort zone lies the likes of Mozart's Requiem; their version is decent at least, and while the Rex Tremendae won't blow your hair back, the music dances the way only Tafelmusik can make it do. Their performance of Haydn's 'Der Schopfung' is a reference recording for me, although I've not met a rendition of that masterpiece I didn't like. The music is too good to be defeated.
Where Tafelmusik shines is in polyphonic baroque. They are up there with Cream and Dave Brubeck in that department.

I convinced some of my friends and relatives to purchase "Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra - The Complete Sony Recordings" when it was $80-90 CDN. I see that today it's on offer for $490.99 CDN. Might still be worth it.

barney
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Re: Bland, Blah, Deadpan

Post by barney » Sat Jul 04, 2020 12:18 am

Yes, I too have heard Tafelmusik several times, and very much appreciated them, though always in repertoire earlier than Mozart. I remember when, several decades ago, the Menuhin/Bath Brandenburgs were very fashionable, but I agree with Slofstra's assessment.

I did hear Tafelmusik once online in something, I haven't a clue now, that I thought woeful, and I couldn't believe it was them. Sorry I can't remember what.

slofstra
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Re: Bland, Blah, Deadpan

Post by slofstra » Sun Jul 05, 2020 8:20 am

barney wrote:
Sat Jul 04, 2020 12:18 am
Yes, I too have heard Tafelmusik several times, and very much appreciated them, though always in repertoire earlier than Mozart. I remember when, several decades ago, the Menuhin/Bath Brandenburgs were very fashionable, but I agree with Slofstra's assessment.

I did hear Tafelmusik once online in something, I haven't a clue now, that I thought woeful, and I couldn't believe it was them. Sorry I can't remember what.
Yesterday I pulled and listened to Tafelmusik's recording of Mozart's German Dances, which was very well regarded at the time of its release. It earned 3 stars in the Penguin Guide, who were sparing with their commendations. At the time this recording sounded fresh, light and rhythmic. There were too many stodgy performances across the classical music spectrum, epitomized by the von Karajan silky, smooth approach. (Wonderful when it works!) I'm not now sure that the playing was that strong, but it does remain a delightful recording.

barney
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Re: Bland, Blah, Deadpan

Post by barney » Sun Jul 05, 2020 8:31 am

Yes. If the early HIP people were too ideological and pedantic, as many were, the modern way of doing it can be highly satisfying: the extra clarity, transparency, balance and spring as opposed to the smooth, big orchestral sound so beloved of Karajan.

maestrob
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Re: Bland, Blah, Deadpan

Post by maestrob » Sun Jul 05, 2020 10:12 am

barney wrote:
Sun Jul 05, 2020 8:31 am
Yes. If the early HIP people were too ideological and pedantic, as many were, the modern way of doing it can be highly satisfying: the extra clarity, transparency, balance and spring as opposed to the smooth, big orchestral sound so beloved of Karajan.
Exactly right, Barney! As instrumentalists have learned and grown more confident on historical instruments and how to play them during the past decades, I've heard many electrifying performances in that repertoire, from Bach to Vivaldi and, yes, even Mozart! :)

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