Post-Review: The Morning After
This summer, for various reasons, I spent a lot of time with the Brahms d minor concerto. This fact will please those who remember the article I wrote about my ambivalence towards Brahms the composer (though that article, if you read it, is actually more about my exploring that ambivalence, and coming to terms with Brahms, than my simply "not liking" him).
After my intense immersion this summer, however, and a deluge of new insights (and you would have to be a nitwit if you could talk to Leon Fleisher in depth about the Brahms d minor and NOT end up with a more profound view of the piece), I have emerged with a sense of possessive intimacy about the d minor concerto, the feeling of tough respect that can attend on relationships that are hard-won, as opposed to the ease of those that come more naturally.
(read more after the jump)
So I looked forward to the NSO's performance of the piece last night with a disproportionate sense of anticipation. But that very fact, as well as my reaction to hearing it, made me question the value to a critic of such immersion. My ears conditioned by the Szell-Fleisher and Szell-Schnabel accounts, I reacted with a sense of near-outrage to Ludovic Morlot's gentler approach and the NSO's flabby playing to that thundering orchestral opening (though the timpani got it off to an excellent start). That's not how it goes! In short, I briefly risked violating the boundary between critical distance and outright fandom. I was too personally involved in the story.
Critical objectivity, of course, is a myth in that useful criticism is born of strong opinions; a completely objective critic would produce only flaccid, even-handed reports. But a critic does need to avoid the perils of partisanship. To wit: it is unfair to criticize Ludovic Morlot and the National Symphony Orchestra for not being George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. it is not even useful or interesting to observe that perhaps they do not play the piece quite as well as these forbears. A lack of objectivity, in such a case, means an inability to overlook the Szell accounts etched in one's heart, and consequently, an inability to hear what is actually happening on stage. I hope I wasn't actually guilty of that in my review. But it was helpful, to me, to be reminded of the distinction.
(For the record, I have managed to review Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand, another Fleisher staple, with what I would venture to call even-handedness were the adjective not so inappropriate to the piece in question.)
October 9, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories: random musings
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