Page 1 of 2

Definitive performance -- is there such an animal?

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 8:28 am
by pizza
The question of "definitive performance" was recently raised in another thread and I thought it a good topic to pursue.

Is there such a thing? Probably not. There are simply too many ways in which a work can be performed that will be completely satisfying to a large number of discerning listeners. However, I think there may be "definitive recordings" of certain works. By that I don't mean to imply that there aren't as many ways that a piece can be recorded that are also satisfying to a consensus of critical listeners. But what has been recorded can be determined with some degree of certainty and among them are those whose excellence consistently stand out well beyond the rest. Can they be called "definitive" in a sense? If by "definitive" one means to convey it as the final and conclusive authority on how a work should be played, probably not. But if it is meant to suggest an established or widely recognized model of authority or excellence, then maybe.

I thought I would take a try at ten well-known recordings of a wide variety of examples of substantial works that may fit the description. These have weathered the test of time and have been consistently thought by some well-known critics over the years to be the definitive recordings of the works in question. Of course, many have also disagreed, but I don't think anyone can gainsay the importance and staying power of these recordings.

Here goes, in no particular order:

Mahler - Das Klagende Lied - Chailly, RSO, Berlin

Shostakovich - Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District - Rostropovich, Vishnevskaya, LPO

Rachmaninov - Piano Concerto #4 - Michelangeli, Gracis, Philharmonia O.

Beethoven - Symphony 5 - Karlos Kleiber, VPO

Bartok - Concerto for Orchestra - Reiner, CSO

Tchaikovsky - Nutcracker - Dorati, Concertgebouw

Schubert - Winterreise - Fischer-Dieskau, Moore

Balakirev - Symphony #1 - Beecham, RPO

Stravinsky - Firebird - Dorati, LSO

Khachaturian - Piano Concerto - Kapell, Koussevitzky, BSO

Terry Teachout recently published a list of 50 recordings in an article for Commentary Magazine which, in his opinion, were the most influential of their kind. I wish I had kept it to see if any of those I mentioned were included.

Anyone else like to take a crack at another 10? It's not as easy as it looks.

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 9:02 am
by Heck148
P - a peformance is only definitive, IMO, if I happen to agree with it!! :lol: :P :!:

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 9:11 am
by pizza
But how about the next one that comes along -- it might be more definitive than the last one! :wink:

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 9:42 am
by Gregg
Hi Pizza,

Actually I have to hope that we never reach a consensus on definitive performance. I'm a Furtwangler fan and we tend to have a vice grip on definitive performances - but valid differences seem to be more exciting once I get to know a piece of music. I'm not trying to derail your thought, but on a larger context I hope no one ever "nails" Beethoven or Brahms or Chopin..... There 's a story you might know about Schonberg's first listen to the muscular way that the Juilliard Quartet played his quartets, he said something to the effect that they were very good, but not what he had in mind when he wrote the music. I have always wondered what he had in mind?

I recently listened to a lot of "Trout" recordings with a friend and we came away with a Serkin, Paranas, Laredo, Lhhevine, a Marlboro festival LP on Columbia. The recording had more feeling and singing than all of my previous favorites. That record came out of the blue, for me.

I think at heart I'm an old worlder mit schlag, but I do like to wrestle with contemporary interpretations - and ketch about the loss of artistry in a note perfect world. On the other hand listening to Lars Vogt's Mozart CD or Aimard's Debussy (head-to-head with Gieseking and Moravec) makes me hope for different and valid re-interpretations that may bring us closer to the score even at more historical distance.


I look forward to the lists on the thread, however.


Gregg

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 10:39 am
by Werner
The definitive performance is an ideal that, like perfection, seems elusive. So much depends on the performer, the listener, perhaps the times and the context. Which makes it all the more interesting.

I remember a Hungerford performance - haven't been able to put my hands on the specific review - but the essence was that Beethoven seemed to be speaking strongly and directly to the audience, without any distortion on the interpreter's part. This would of course require a really strong interpretive personality, and any performance capable of creating that impression must come close to being definitive.

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 11:06 am
by Heck148
pizza wrote:But how about the next one that comes along -- it might be more definitive than the last one! :wink:
right, that's the whole point!! :D 8)

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 11:12 am
by Heck148
Werner wrote:The definitive performance is an ideal that, like perfection, seems elusive. So much depends on the performer, the listener, perhaps the times and the context.
the problem with the idea of definitive performance is, of course, that one person is trying to make his/her own personal opinion be universally accepted...

that simply does not happen with something like art or music which is very subjective, to say the least...
the world of business or science can rely quite heavily on objective standards - "the bottom line" - which process produced the most measurably favorable results, who generated the greatest profit at the end of the year...

performing arts do not offer such objective standards...

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 11:15 am
by jbuck919
I would distinguish a definitive performance from an unforgetable one (I am not claiming any connoisseurly genius for making that statement). I have a recording of Daniel Chorzempa (an old LP) playing the Bach Passacaglia in which he (very correctly) improvises a quite marvelous cadenza at the very end of the fugue. It is absolutely brilliant in the context of an otherwise also remarkable performance of a masterpiece. In thirty years I have never heard a performance to compare to that one. The definitive performance? Bach himself would have laughed at the idea. A performance that a serious devote would not hear equalled in a span of more than 30 years? You bet.

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 12:37 pm
by Werner
In a similar vein, I think of Wanda Landowska's Mozart - deeply personal, certainly scholarly, full of embellishments, Eingänge, and the like. I'm thinking especially of her performance - recorded live, I believe, of the Piano Conmcerto K 415, in which she does this in a most fascinating way. Definitive? There would be lots of arguments on behalf of more literal and equally meritorious performances. Unforgettable? Certainly!

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 12:39 pm
by Mark Antony Owen
I'm with those who hope there never IS such a thing as a 'definitive performance', of any work.

The wonderful thing about the performing arts is that it IS open to interpretation. Many may agree that one or more performance(s) stand out against a lot of others for any number of reasons - technical or interpretive - but I doubt anyone will ever capture a truly definitive performance, as what is meat to one is poison to another.

As an example, many diasgree with my preference for Peter Rosel in Beethoven's 'Moonlight' Sonata (particularly the adagio, in which I feel he has the pacing absolutely 'perfect' for my tastes). Does this mean I toss it aside in favour of their choices? Definit(iv)ely, not!

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 1:09 pm
by Barry
Heck148 wrote:P - a peformance is only definitive, IMO, if I happen to agree with it!! :lol: :P :!:
We agree for once :oops: .

There are certainly performances that stand head and shoulders above all others for me with regard to particular pieces, but I don't think there are definitive performances in general. Taste varies too much from person to person.

Loads of people love that Kleiber Beethoven 5, including many critics, but I've heard probably at least a dozen other recordings or live performances of the fifth that I'd take over the Kleiber.

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 1:31 pm
by CharmNewton
I think of definitive as defining rather than as an ideal or the single right way to perform a work. So a work can have many definitive performances (and I suspect were probably talking about recordings here) in the same way that a word can have many meanings. I don't think definitions fit perfectly, but they can give us some idea of what to expect. For example, if I were to say that Munch's recording of Schubert's 9th Symphony defines an approach that is intense and rhythmically propulsive, I think one could get the idea that this is a fast and powerful performance. That is no substitute for hearing the recording, but it can give the listener some ideas about the recording, particular if they aren't attuned to an approach defined by opulence and broader tempi. Or one defined within historically-informed performance parameters.

Since I can enjoy a number of approaches to a work, I rarely ever get rid of a recording. :D

John

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 1:40 pm
by Mark Antony Owen
CharmNewton wrote:Since I can enjoy a number of approaches to a work, I rarely ever get rid of a recording. :D

John
John raises an interesting, related point here. How many of us are willing to get rid of a recording of any given work once it is replaced in our affections by another? I have had a 'cull' once or twice, but only to get shot of absolutely awful recordings with poor sound, or those that sound little better than perfunctory run-throughs. I remember a Dvorak String Serenade I had that was just sterile from start to finish. Replaced it with the warm, expressive Chandos recording - plus a lovely version on Naxos - and off went the fourth-rate CD to a charity shop!

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 4:29 pm
by Corlyss_D
Heck148 wrote:P - a peformance is only definitive, IMO, if I happen to agree with it!! :lol: :P :!:
Or the critics place it on a pedestal and it dominates as "definitive" for that reason and you can't ride around it. I'm thinking here of the very arch Salzburg 56 Rosenkavalier with Schwartzkopf, Ludwig, and Edelmann.

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 7:41 pm
by Lance
No, there probably isn't a so-called "definitive performance" of any piece of music; it is only perceived to be so by the one hearing it, as has been mentioned throughout this thread. We tend to value the opinions of critics and those who listen to a lot of recorded music. There can be outstanding performances that rise above others for one reason or another, or the moment was perfect for the musicians, conductor/performer, acoustics, and recording process itself. I mean to say there are, no doubt, huge differences between a would-be European National Orchestra under Kurt Woss's direction and Leopold Stokowski's and the London Philharmonic of, say, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, just using that as an example for comparison. Some might even prefer Herr Woss's interpretation over Stokowski's. We like to think the critics are the ones with the best ears and direct us accordingly, but they are only directing us on the basis of their personal opinions. Most of us who collect recordings and listen with intensity already know what versions of things we might consider "definitive" for ourselves, hopefully based on some kind of musical knowledge and understanding.

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 7:48 pm
by Ken
Gregg wrote:Actually I have to hope that we never reach a consensus on definitive performance. I'm a Furtwangler fan and we tend to have a vice grip on definitive performances - but valid differences seem to be more exciting once I get to know a piece of music.
Hah, here's where we differ! Thanks to Naxos Historical, I have had a chance to compare Toscanini and Furtwangler's performances of the Beethoven symphonies. I know Toscanini is known for his rapid tempo and I should not use his style as the definitive performance method for Beethoven's works, but when I hear Furtwangler conducting, the works come off as a bit too leisurely. I first noticed this during the french horn bits of the scherzo to the Eroica symphony.

As for my pick for a definitive recording, I would have to go with the two separate sessions in which Glenn Gould recorded the Bach Goldberg Variations. He is incredibly meticulous, and he very much flaunts his dexterity in the 1955 recording, while in the 1981 session he tends to intone each note, as if each were worth more than the last.

Just for the record, I do not own either of these sessions, but they're on my short list! :wink:

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 8:04 pm
by Lance
keninottawa wrote:
Gregg wrote:Actually I have to hope that we never reach a consensus on definitive performance. I'm a Furtwangler fan and we tend to have a vice grip on definitive performances - but valid differences seem to be more exciting once I get to know a piece of music.
Hah, here's where we differ! Thanks to Naxos Historical, I have had a chance to compare Toscanini and Furtwangler's performances of the Beethoven symphonies. I know Toscanini is known for his rapid tempo and I should not use his style as the definitive performance method for Beethoven's works, but when I hear Furtwangler conducting, the works come off as a bit too leisurely. I first noticed this during the french horn bits of the scherzo to the Eroica symphony.

As for my pick for a definitive recording, I would have to go with the two separate sessions in which Glenn Gould recorded the Bach Goldberg Variations. He is incredibly meticulous, and he very much flaunts his dexterity in the 1955 recording, while in the 1981 session he tends to intone each note, as if each were worth more than the last.

Just for the record, I do not own either of these sessions, but they're on my short list! :wink:
You make some interesting and valid points, Ken in Ottawa. I am a devoted fan of Glenn Gould, particularly his Bach interpretations, and especially his first (mono) recording of the Goldbergs. I have spent considerable time with Howard H. Scott, Gould's recording engineer/producer for this CD, and I love this performance. It was Gould's recording that bolstered my interest in all of Bach's keyboard music. Definitive though? Not for the purist (and I am not a purist). It's that kind of thing that keeps (for individuals) the word "definitive."

Insofar as Toscanini goes, I, too, love the great art of this man and have nearly everything he recorded commercially and then some. But when it comes to Beethoven, Furtwängler gets my vote. (Remember, I didn't say his performances were "definitive!") There is something about the sound of Furtwänglers orchestras, the BPO or whomever, that does not compare to the NBC Symphony, as great as that orchestra was, made up of some of the best musicians to be found at the time. (I actually think his work the the NYP was quite outstanding and exemplary.) The elegance, the majesty, the—what I call—"European flavor" of Furtwängler is just on a level of its own, at least for me. Was he always great in this way? No way!

I know that cults are formed on many conductors and musicians and I have always tried to NOT let that influence me, but would draw upon my own mentality and study of the music to formulate opinions. On the other hand, there's another good reason that Furtwängler's name (regardless of the performance or venue or year) reigns supreme: he was that good. This takes nothing away from Maestro Toscanini.

A conductor friend of mine, who is a protégé of the legendary Pierre Monteux was mentioning not long ago that, when he was growing up, the name Toscanini was more predominant than any other conductor and that today, we rarely hear the name of Toscanini. He seems to have grown out of fashion whereas Furtwängler's name is a household word among collectors and music aficionados.

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 8:37 pm
by Ken
^ I suppose, then, that one could classify the recordings of the Goldberg Variations as the definitive Gould. With one session, he started off his prodigious career and became an icon of Canadian music. With the other session, I believe recorded two years prior to his death, he demonstrated his maturity as an artist and capped off a remarkable and far too short career.

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 8:43 pm
by Lance
keninottawa wrote:^ I suppose, then, that one could classify the recordings of the Goldberg Variations as the definitive Gould. With one session, he started off his prodigious career and became an icon of Canadian music. With the other session, I believe recorded two years prior to his death, he demonstrated his maturity as an artist and capped off a remarkable and far too short career.
Well, that is probably more accurate, referring to Gould as the "Definitive Gould," insofar as the Goldbergs go. And he will always remain an icon, I'm sure. But I was quite disturbed by his traversal of Mozart's piano sonatas! Gould will, no doubt, retain his iconoclastic status because of what he did with Bach's music. He actually was a revelation in the music of Bach for many people world-wide. A pity he died so young but contributed so much to the arts, nonetheless.

I so admired the pianist that I have even visited his grave site in Toronto and have been to the Glenn Gould Hall and checked out their pianos and even have a picture of him (sitting in a bronze likeness), on a bench, one of Toronto's great sites if you love music.

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 10:30 pm
by Heck148
Corlyss_D wrote:
Heck148 wrote:P - a peformance is only definitive, IMO, if I happen to agree with it!! :lol: :P :!:
Or the critics place it on a pedestal and it dominates as "definitive" for that reason and you can't ride around it.
Not for me - to hell with the critics.... :P
I don't regard critics as any sort of ultimate authority whatsoever...sometimes they are right, or useful...when they agree with me!! :lol: :!:

they can rant and rave about a performance, but if it doesn't work for me, it is in no way definitive...

Posted: Sun May 21, 2006 10:41 pm
by Werner
Right, Heck - I definitely agree with you.

Definitive performance

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 1:57 am
by Agnes Selby
Performers are individuals and as such will always inject
their own perceptions of a work into their performances.
This is what separates a great performer from a good one.

If this were not so, all interpretations would be exactly
the same and not many people would come to hear the
performers in concert or buy their immitative recordings.

An international piano competition is a good place to see that
a definitive performance of a work does not exist.
The audience is very quickly aware when a great performer
is on the stage and although he/she is performing exactly the
same notes, the performance and the understanding of the music
is his/hers very own.

Regards,
Agnes.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 3:08 am
by val
All of us have an ideal interpretation in our minds regarding the musical works we most love. We see those works in a certain perspective and sometimes we find an interpretation that fits exactly into those parameters.
I know some interpretations that I consider ideal. Ideal because they show a perfect adequacy to my own perception of a special work. Unless my perspective changes, and in some cases it would be almost impossible, because there are works that are part of my life since a long time, those interpretations will remain untouchable, unique.

Some examples:
Beethoven's Quartet opus 59 n. 2 by the Janacek Quartet.
Haydn's Quartet opus 54 n. 2 by the Lindsays Quartet.
Schumann's overture of Manfred, by Furtwängler with the BPO.
Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony by Mravinsky with the Leningrad Orchestra.
Bruckner's 8th Symphony by Jochum with the BPO.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 3:40 am
by Holden Fourth
"Definitive" is personal and for me that means recordings of works that I don't think I need to search for another recording because I'm very happy with what I've got. I can't see myself replacing the Klemperer Brahms Requiem or the Richter Appassionata, Davis Gottschalk, Murray/Johnson "Nacht und Traume" and so on.

However, I can remember searching for the definitive LvB 9th and while I ended up with many fine performances none was totally satisfying and I imagine that this will always be so despite having the top notch Fricsay.

So, it's when you are content to listen to your perferred version above all else and can't see the point in hearing another that you've found YOUR definitive version.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 4:14 am
by RebLem
I think the term "definitive" goes beyond one's perspnal opinion as to what is best. I think the word should be reserved not for what I think is best, but for a performance on which there seems to be a general consensus, with perhaps a few dissenters, on which performance is best.

Actually, I agree with only two of pizza's choices--any Reiner Bartok recording is definitive, and I also agree on the Moore, Fischer-Dieskau Shubert Winterreise. I think another aspect of "definitive" has to be that there have to have been enough people who have tried and failed for a performance to be definitive. Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth... has not been recorded often enough for one performance to be considered definitive. And so controversial and eccentric an artist as Glenn Gould cannot be definitive. I am not a fan of his Bach, but I do like his Strauss and Hindemith recordings.

A few things I do consider definitive other than those mentioned above--a 2 CD set of 4 Bach secular cantatas by Elly Ameling and the Collegium Aureum, the Monteux, CSO Franck D Minor Symphony, and the Fleisher, Szell set of the Beethoven Piano Concerti.

There are many other performances which I think OUGHT to be considered definitive, and I cannot see how anyone could be so boneheaded as to disagree, but the fact is that there are so many differences of opinion on these that my choices are not definitive.

Among the things I think ought to be considered definitive but are not because critical opinion is too divided are the Marriner/ASMF Brandenburgs, the Menuhin Vivladi Four Seasons, and Handel Water Music, the Mackerras Handel Messiah (the 1966 recording with the ECO and Dame Janet Baker), and the Solti Brahms 4th.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 6:08 am
by Ken
Lance wrote: I so admired the pianist that I have even visited his grave site in Toronto and have been to the Glenn Gould Hall and checked out their pianos and even have a picture of him (sitting in a bronze likeness), on a bench, one of Toronto's great sites if you love music.
I'll be there this weekend, and I'll make sure to snap a couple of photographs.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 6:52 am
by premont
Performances may be more or less in style, and to your taste or not to your taste, or in between, but certainly not definitive. Even when all the composers prescriptions are observed, the possibilities of interpretations of a piece of music are too numerous, and not even the most brilliant performer can take all these possibilities into account in one single performance. And generally: The greater the music, the more the interpretations may differ and still be great. IMO part of the fascination by classical music is the fact, that the spectrum of interpretations is so wide, and that the different interpretations throw light upon each other as well as upon the music.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 7:01 am
by Mark Antony Owen
premont wrote:Performances may be more or less in style, and to your taste or not to your taste, or in between, but certainly not definitive. Even when all the composers prescriptions are observed, the possibilities of interpretations of a piece of music are too numerous, and not even the most brilliant performer can take all these possibilities into account in one single performance. And generally: The greater the music, the more the interpretations may differ and still be great. IMO part of the fascination by classical music is the fact, that the spectrum of interpretations is so wide, and that the different interpretations throw light upon each other as well as upon the music.
That's pretty much my view.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 7:29 am
by Gregg
keninottawa wrote: Hah, here's where we differ! Thanks to Naxos Historical, I have had a chance to compare Toscanini and Furtwangler's performances of the Beethoven symphonies. :

Hi keninottawa

I was being a bit tongue and cheek, I should have written that we presume to have a lock on definitive.... You have to hang out with Furtwangler fans to get the effect.

Actually, though I like the big orchestra sound, period (and period-ish performances like Rattle/Vienna) have made me think that the sound I'm used to is not all there is to Beethoven. None the less HIP conductors do not seem to have the pace and flow that I like, so I'm still waiting for definitive Beethoven.

I am a Toscanini fan as well. His London Brahms symphony recordings is right next to me wartime Furtwangler Brahms set. Actually my favorite 5th might be by Mengelberg.

As for Bach, I wish Lipatti had lived to record more. I like Gould, but as with Furtwangler, I think there may be more to the picture.



Gregg

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 9:45 am
by pizza
I think the emphasis of the discussion so far has been heavily weighted toward personal taste. But there are other factors as well. What about the impact of style on performing tradition? And what about the influence of an artist's approach on others? Does that have any weight concerning what a particular generation may consider to be "definitive"? As an example, I remember how many of the younger American pianists of the '50s tried to emulate Horowitz! If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then surely his style -- inimitable as it was -- was considered by some to be definitive.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 9:48 am
by Mark Antony Owen
pizza wrote:I think the emphasis of the discussion so far has been heavily weighted toward personal taste. But there are other factors as well. What about the impact of style on performing tradition? And what about the influence of an artist's approach on others? Does that have any weight concerning what a particular generation may consider to be "definitive"? As an example, I remember how many of the younger American pianists of the '50s tried to emulate Horowitz! If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then surely his style -- inimitable as it was -- was considered by some to be definitive.
And along similar lines, are we to consider HIP recordings definitive?

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 11:26 am
by pizza
The lines aren't at all similar. Performing traditions as they relate to contemporary style is the issue rather than what kind of historically informed practices may be employed for purposes of "authenticity".

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 12:09 pm
by Mark Antony Owen
pizza wrote:The lines aren't at all similar. Performing traditions as they relate to contemporary style is the issue rather than what kind of historically informed practices may be employed for purposes of "authenticity".
Sorry, but I disagree.

Performing traditions in the past didn't employ HIP, as I understand it. If I'm wrong, then so be it. Performances/recordings had a particular colour or style and were judged accordingly, with some pronounced 'definitive' by some people.

Nowadays, HIP is more prevalent, with some performers aiming to achieve a more, as you say, 'authentic' approach to the music. So I'd argue that for some people today, at least some of the recordings which most closely approximate what a composer perhaps intended us to hear, might (on these terms) be considered definitive. No?

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 12:54 pm
by pizza
I think we're talking about two different things. Performing traditions exist concerning particular works and genres of music. For example, in James Methuen-Campbell's book "Chopin Playing -- From the Composer to the Present Day" he discusses this question as it applies to the various schools of Chopin pianists. According to him there are recognizable traditions and schools of playing among them. And although many of the great Chopin pianists rarely played a work the same way twice, there are underlying basic conceptions that most of them follow. And when discussing some pianists as I recall, for example Cortot and Rubinstein, although he doesn't use the word "definitive" concerning their playing of certain works, he suggests that some of their performances are "unsurpassed", which in my opinion is just another way of saying the same thing.

Of course, anyone is free to disagree with him and dismiss his views out-of-hand, but Methuen-Campbell is an accomplished pianist and teacher, and has obviously studied the subject thoroughly, and so I tend to take his criticisms seriously.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 1:15 pm
by Mark Antony Owen
pizza wrote:I think we're talking about two different things. Performing traditions exist concerning particular works and genres of music. For example, in James Methuen-Campbell's book "Chopin Playing -- From the Composer to the Present Day" he discusses this question as it applies to the various schools of Chopin pianists. According to him there are recognizable traditions and schools of playing among them. And although many of the great Chopin pianists rarely played a work the same way twice, there are underlying basic conceptions that most of them follow. And when discussing some pianists as I recall, for example Cortot and Rubinstein, although he doesn't use the word "definitive" concerning their playing of certain works, he suggests that some of their performances are "unsurpassed", which in my opinion is just another way of saying the same thing.

Of course, anyone is free to disagree with him and dismiss his views out-of-hand, but Methuen-Campbell is an accomplished pianist and teacher, and has obviously studied the subject thoroughly, and so I tend to take his criticisms seriously.
I must defer to your learning on this one. :D

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 1:18 pm
by Werner
It seems to me that this discussion illustrates the wide range of interpretations to which a term such as "definitive" is subject. Calling a performer's interpretation "unsurpassed," as Pizza cites, will do for one elemant of definition - and I've encountered performers and performances that exemplify this.

Then consider "HIP,' "authenticity," or generational changes in performance practice. Each of them have their own standards, not necessarily the same. So what's "definitive?"

It's still up to each performer to find their own way to the core of the work they are presenting - and each peformance has to stand on its own. With luck, the performer will find some listener who will consider it "unsurpassed."

By the same token, each listener must make his/her own choice - and not necessarily be locked in place by recordings. Yes, they're wonderful, and I have a collection, much like everyone else here - but don't disregard present-day live performance. And performance practice, as Pizza has indicated, does tend to evolve. So there are always new ways to evaluate the performance's relevance to the original work, and "definitive" keeps shifting.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 1:21 pm
by lmpower
I think the composer would be the best person to consult on which performance is definitive, since he knows what he intended. Unfortunately we can't always have access to the composer's opinion.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 2:24 pm
by premont
Even a composer may execute his own works, so they are without life, and that surely wasn´t the purpose in this context.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 2:30 pm
by karlhenning
Also, the composer himself may entertain a range of interpretation.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 5:00 pm
by Brendan
Definative? The only way I can think of this personally are those performances that leave you thinking "how come no one else can play it this piece?" such as Furtwangler's Betthoven 6th or the Rubinstein mazurkas. Even Chopin experts rarely record the mazurkas, and every time I hear Furtwangler's LvB 6th after some time I am amazed that no one else can play that symphony at all.

But such instances are rare indeed, at least to my ear. Callas in Tosca and Medea, Fricsay's Mass in C minor (I'd say his Verdi Requiem but others diasagree) and Bluebeard's Castle, Myra Hess' Appassionata are others that I would argue for. Particularly Callas.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 6:37 pm
by Werner
Brendan: did you hear a complete Appassionata from Myra Hess? Isn't that the one where only the first movement was recorded, or am I thinking of something else?

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 6:49 pm
by Brendan
Werner,

I've only seen the first movement on old black-and-white footage, but it was such a performance that I'll never forget it. One of those timing things, perhaps, where I'd been listening to the Appassionata and decided that no human being could play the opening - it was just too hard to effortlessly switch from refined calm to passionate ferocity with perfect impunity. Then one Sunday I saw Myra Hess just sit down and without further ado perfom it better than I ever thought possible.

I've seen that footage a few times now, and it still blows me away. But I can't find a Hess Appassionata on disc anywhere, and don't think she recorded it. :cry:

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 7:05 pm
by Werner
So we're talking about the same thing. I've seen it, too, and certainly share your impression. Too bad there seems to be no complete Appassionata by her.

Posted: Tue May 23, 2006 3:52 am
by taisiawshan
pizza wrote:I think the emphasis of the discussion so far has been heavily weighted toward personal taste. But there are other factors as well. What about the impact of style on performing tradition? And what about the influence of an artist's approach on others? Does that have any weight concerning what a particular generation may consider to be "definitive"?
Personal taste includes all the other factors.
I think there's no one particular "definitive",
but under each personal tastes,
there can be one "definitive".
So, there are many "definitives".

Posted: Tue May 23, 2006 3:56 am
by taisiawshan
lmpower wrote:I think the composer would be the best person to consult on which performance is definitive, since he knows what he intended. Unfortunately we can't always have access to the composer's opinion.
Some think that when a piece is composed, it's not the composer's business to consult any more.

Posted: Tue May 23, 2006 9:45 am
by DavidRoss
The discussion seems to be turning toward what seems a reasonable example of "definitive performance" to me: A performance by a first-rate orchestra led by a first-rate conductor who is also the composer. Of course, that leads to questions like: Which of Boulez's three recordings of Pli selon pli is the definitive one?

Maybe a good work is not susceptible to definitive performance, but amenable to a variety of different approaches. Is Vänskä's Sibelius 4 definitive, or Segerstam's? I enjoy both and would not want to have to choose one over the other...and if I had to, the choice I make today might differ from the choice I would make tomorrow.

The closest I get to "definitive" is when I find a recording of a work that satisfies me so much that I've no interest in finding a "better" or alternative recording: the MTT/SFSO Appalachian Spring, for instance. I wouldn't claim that it ought to be everyone's top choice, but it reopened my eyes to a shopworn piece and let me love it again, and that's good enough for me.

Posted: Tue May 23, 2006 9:55 am
by Barry
DavidRoss wrote:The closest I get to "definitive" is when I find a recording of a work that satisfies me so much that I've no interest in finding a "better" or alternative recording....
Good definition. There aren't many like that for me; maybe Furtwangler's Beethoven 9th and Moldau, Celibidache's Bruckner 6th and Gilels/Jochum in the Brahms D-Minor concerto.

Posted: Tue May 23, 2006 10:06 am
by karlhenning
DavidRoss wrote:The discussion seems to be turning toward what seems a reasonable example of "definitive performance" to me: A performance by a first-rate orchestra led by a first-rate conductor who is also the composer. Of course, that leads to questions like: Which of Boulez's three recordings of Pli selon pli is the definitive one?
And . . . another question, is the very assumption that the composer himself necessarily endorses only one 'view' of a work. Cannot a composer conceivably write a piece such, that he in fact welcomes a variety of reading?
The closest I get to "definitive" is when I find a recording of a work that satisfies me so much that I've no interest in finding a "better" or alternative recording: the MTT/SFSO Appalachian Spring, for instance. I wouldn't claim that it ought to be everyone's top choice, but it reopened my eyes to a shopworn piece and let me love it again, and that's good enough for me.
With Barry, I call this a sage definition of definitive 8) The look of the word notwithstanding, I think it resists any neat definition which will "objectify" its application.

Cheers,
~Karl

Posted: Tue May 23, 2006 10:09 am
by pizza
I'll add two more to the ten I started with:

Bernstein - West Side Story - Original Cast, Bernstein

Varese - Arcana - Martinon, CSO

The Varese/Martinon is a dynamic, perfectly executed performance by the CSO at the peak of its powers. I've heard every other recording of the work, and have kept them all in my collection other than the Boulez, and although all of them have something of interest to offer, none of them come close.

Posted: Tue May 23, 2006 6:19 pm
by Heck148
RebLem wrote: There are many other performances which I think OUGHT to be considered definitive, and I cannot see how anyone could be so boneheaded as to disagree, but the fact is that there are so many differences of opinion on these that my choices are not definitive.
LOL!! good commentary!!