Sunday, February 22, 2009

Critic of a CD !!!

This is a review of the CD, "Hélène Grimaud Plays Bach", that I took from Amazon.
I would like to keep it here for possible future reference. You may find this post unimaginative and redundant :)

8 of 18 people found the following review helpful:
1.0 out of 5 stars Bach or Grimaud? You have to choose!, February 10, 2009
Polyphony and contrapunct are at the essence of Baroque music. Gould understood it perfectly and knew how to play to reveal it. One can be touched or not by his performances but no one can deny that the basis of this music is ingrained in Gould. It's not a question of taste, but of knowledge and technique.

In the case of the very promoted Miss Grimaud and the 5 voice Fugue BWV 849 for instance, imagine a 5 voice choir in which each chorist could not sing their own voice clearly. Before asking the real questions about the significance of this music, basic technical aspects should be solved.

The difficulty in Bach clavier music is that there is no indication of tempo or articulation. The rare indications -often taken as the rule by superficial editors- are usually exceptions, where Bach wanted something else than usual.

In Bach orchestral music for strings in particular, bowing indications are present and reveal the intent of the composer and the polyphony. It is not the case for clavier music: research has demonstrated that baroque composers did not need to.

Often, string players were only enlightened amateurs or musicians with lesser importance than the Kapellmeisters and keyboardists, regarded as the highest educated musicians. Their knowledge came from in depth studying and they knew how to decrypt the score without the help of indications they would have deemed unnecessary.

The origin of this music comes from Protestant liturgy and chants. The articulation is supposed to imitate the voices. Not only that, but motives are themselves associated with this liturgy. Playing a certain motif then, its meaning was understood by those listening, like a reference to the cross for instance.

So this music is coded by nature. Prof. Vera Nosina from Moscow demonstrated that the Fugue BWV 849 details the acceptation by Christ of his destiny on the cross. There are three themes: cross, suffering and destiny. The evolution and relative importance of the themes during the fugue expose this episode.

Therefore not only to play the polyphony is of utmost importance but it is within this polyphony that resides the meaning of the piece. Of course the soloist can insist on a particular aspect while respecting the style of the epoch. This way, many interpretations can co-exist provided they keep in style and thus stay meaningful.

To transform this polyphony in a simple -and thus simplistic- homophonic melody/accompaniment is to romanticize and to occult the meaning of this music. When it is about transcriptions it is not a problem because they are by nature romantic re-works. But when it comes to Bach original Urtext, it is a "contre-sens".

Rules of small speech-like articulation do provide us with a sense of impeccable Baroque style and also with a terrain for the expressivity to come through. They are an opportunity for each artist to find and discover unknown aspects in this rich music. Thus a diversity of meaningful inetrpretation can co-exist provided the basic polyphony is there.

In her promo interview video Ms. Grimaud suggests that Bach would have enjoyed playing on a modern Steinway as her reply to the quarrel between moderns and period instruments proponents. Such quarrels are as if one were to focus on the different quality of brushes used by Vermeer or Monet. Who cares!

The real question has to do with the content and how to express the polyphony that is the essence of this music. Obviously quarreling about instruments is a good way to avoid the crux of the problem while keeping appearances.

In conclusion, and to come back to Ms. Grimaud poor romantic effort, despite an interesting programming choice, she obviously does not know how to bring Bach polyphony out and thus can only glaze over the meaning of this music. This is painfully evident in the 5 voice Fugue BWV 849 from the WTC book 1, and throughout this disc.

The orchestral part in no way redeems this disc. The Concerto in D minor lacks architecture and becomes a long stretched out repetitive noodle. The slow movement is oozing out of place romantic yearning while the finale combines homophonic unimaginative lines and poor pianism. This is all about Grimaud, complacent, self serving and commercial. The Rachmaninov transcription that ends the program stops almost unexpectedly: what has been said? What was the point of all this exercise? Go figure!

In the name of "musical diversity", it is a commercial hegemony that blankets the media and if the marketing header is proof, every critic will play its part, including a "Diapason d'Or" award. So far only Rick Phillips of "Sound Advice", a former CBC program has dared being mildly critical of the product. But for every record of this pretentious soup sold, it is the intelligence of other artists that is muzzled and reduced to be measured according to this pseudo-reference.

1 comment:

  1. I am going to highlight the passages that I am fining interesting now! Part of it is really moving to me, how can a review be moving after all???!!!!


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