[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
I was recently travelling from coast to coast in my native land, and
ended up in my hometown, Toronto, for a few weeks. At the end of my
visit I managed finally to hear a performance by the Toronto Symphony
under its new conductor, Saraste, at Thompson Hall. It was the Mahler
3, which for me is very near the top of my favourite symphonies. It was
a superb performance. The year Thompson Hall opened was the year Gould
died (at the first concert following his death Heldenleben had been
scheduled to be performed and Andrew Davis, as he then was, dedicated it
to Gould's memory). It was also the last year I lived in Toronto. I
heard a lot of superb performers and performances, but the Hall
disappointed me. It was too dry, too bright, totally lacking in warmth
and a wash of sound that surrounded and submerged me and carried me
away, which was my test st the time for a transcendent performance. But
at this Mahler performance I found myself impressed by the acoustics.
Yeas, the sound was bright, but it was also clear and transparent, and
thus very, very unforgiving. Still, every instrument could be heard
distinctly. The sound was not a wash and was therefore distancing or
alienating, in a Brechtian sense, so that one focussed on the music
itself and not one's emotional response to it--or rather not solely on
one's emotional response. And I decided that I probably wouldn't like
warm halls all that much which allow for mistakes to be made. But I
also found myself wondering, especially in light of a conversation I had
had recently with a record store manager about the differences between
Gould's vinyl originals and CD transfers, as to whether my new liking
for Thompson Hall was a result of more experience in listening to music,
and a new sort of maturity in my focus on what counts in a good
performance, or whether the CD revolution had not in fact educated my
ears or at least transformed them. Given Gould's search for a dry and
transparent sound, it seems as if digital recording was made for him, as
was Thompson Hall. Not that the acoustics would ever have drawn him
back to the stage, but he might have liked recording there. But my
experience certainly highlights the point that the technology of musical
reproduction transforms us in listening to its results.
Again, a week ago I was listening to the CD transfer of Pogorelich's
first recording for DG--a Chopin recital, including the second sonata.
I was only half listening to it, until the second and third movements,
and I was wide awake with amazement. What a sound, what clarity, what
unity and coherence. This was not my response when the record first
came out. What has happended? Have I simply become more knowledgable
of Chopin's music, which I dismissed in the past as sentimental and
schmaltz (influnced by the the film Ashes and Diamonds in this respect);
or, had I been trained to listen differently, partly by immersing myself
for so many years in Gould, partly by the transparency that digital
recordings make possible?
So, two questions. First, why did Gould refuse to record Chopin?
Does his explanation make sense musically to anyone? Is there something
in Chopin's compositional style that makes him worse than Mendelssohn,
or Liszt, or Strauss, or Brahms, or Schumann? As I listen more and more
to Chopin I puzzle as to why Gould would not have preferred him to all
other composers other than Bach and Schoenberg. Can any of the
musicians on the list explain this?
My second question is whether Pogorelich is in some sense Gould's
heir. Yes, there are the eccentricities of behaviour, including
frequent cancellations. And Pogorelich admired Gould, although he took
exception to his abandonment of the stage. But his performances are
also somewhat wilfull, and my recent experience suggests, also
emphasizing clarity in a way that Gould did too. Any thoughts?