Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stepping off my beat for a moment

God only knows what's with my unmanageable tendency to post about things I'm only halfway through reading.* But here I go again, this time about Joyce Hatto, at least until I veer off somewhere completely unrelated. I'm out of my depth from the git-go on this one, as I love a piano as much as the next Marx brother, but am not really a phile. One thing I do find fascinating is this: as opera fans, we all revel in being able to clock Dusolina Giannini in two measures, at forty paces, aurally speaking. And apparently, from what I'm reading in the New Yorker piece as well as what I remember from rec.music.opera back before I abandoned classical music wherein nobody (Thank you Terrence MacNally) dies....those whose forte is piano get possessed by the exact same gameshow geist.

Surely it adds a flavor of intrigue to think that there may be artifice and therefore mysteries that can't be solved with a glance at the album cover. I've always felt a little extra interest in my Kleiber Rosenkavalier on some fly-by-night label wherein a singer I'm basically positive is the beloved Lucia Popp (and esteemed others have said the same) is cagily listed as one Hilde da Groote--who apparently did exist and even sing, though I find it tough to believe she managed to shovel the same amount of irresistible flirtation into the single word "Quinquin" when Sophie tells Oktavian what the one other etwas she knows about him is.

Here's the thing, for me. I had always wondered if people could tell their favorite instrumentalists apart the way we can tell Janowitz from Brouwenstijn, you and me. Because no matter how individual the fall of your fingers on a keyboard, it's never going to have the same absolutely organic instrument/musician gesammstkunstwerker connection as when the musican is the instrument. So really I find it fascinating to imagine being able to tell instrumentalists apart; I suppose in extreme cases you can see how it could be done, really individualistic accents like Heifetz' legato, that sometimes sounds like a human voice articulating a "w" (here again I betray my prejudice: things are distinct insofar as they're voice-like) or of course people who play a distinctive instrument, Landowska on her Pleyel, and for that matter melting the notes into one another as if it were a flute, which isn't possible. Horowitz, I understand, played with such sheer volume it might tip the listener off, but then wasn't there a scandal of sorts about that, too?

The point here, if there is one, is that our ability to recognize a musician blind is tightly bound to our sense of ourselves as having meaningful feelings about what makes good music. I remember my own first absolutely certain aural i.d., and it was (hi again!) Lucia Popp, and I don't think it's a coincidence she was for many years my vocal uberdivchen and remains essential to my understanding of good singing. Some awful part of us that is structurally related to cosmic trainwrecks like No Child Left Behind, that is to say, to measures of goodness that satisfy us by being consistent but/therefore are troubled or even worthless, is also responsible for the idea that you can't really like Berger better than Gueden if you run any risk of mistaking one for another.

Ah, something there is in me that doesn't love a statistic, that's for sure, and that same thing doesn't love the idea that the value of a performance has anything to do with what face or what fingers brought it into being. But who can deny that part of the love of all of this is a feeling of connection to the chap behind the chaconne? Maybe part of the trend, which I still think may be overstated, toward singers with world-class faces is that we're afraid of being tricked when we love a singer (pianist, violist, glass harmonic...ker) with our ears.

But I don't really think so, not for sure. I'm just talking. Six more days and I can resume talking whereof I have a clue.

Unrelated: I do roll my eyes a bit when people beseech and apostrophize the powers that be on Opera-L or any other den of tinfoil millinery, apparently half expecting Peter Gelb, sitting at a terminal somewhere, to smack his forehead and yelp, "Great Scott! Why didn't I think of that?!" So think of this just as my fantasy, but if it is true what is hinted over at that scandalous rumour mill we call Parterre, and my guess about this rumor in particular is correct, and the lovely Bayrakdarian is going to desusannify due to being otherwise occupied in every sense (picture her with a little sign that says "occupied"...) Well then I just had this divoon thought about what the Met should do, and that's correct an oversight of many years and see what Lisa Saffer's doing. We have spoken.


*"...and he isn't talking," as the punchline goes. The nonexistent can be so taciturn.

9 comments:

Marc Geelhoed said...

Oh, yeah, a lot of fans of instrumental music can identify their favorite performers within a couple notes. It mostly has to do with attack and phrasing, less than with a particularly unique tone, though those are also plentiful. I'd say it's 60 per cent attack and 40 per cent tone that gives away a performer's identity.

Maury D'annato said...

Thanks Marc, totally interesting and I think jealous-making for me to see this confirmed. I just can't imagine being able to tell pianists apart. But then I guess in 1989 I didn't understand how you could tell a mezzo from a soprano, so even the apparently inscrutable can sometimes be learned.

Stewball said...

I saw Hilda da Groote once. She was singing Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi. She sounded pretty and was replacing Sona Ghazarian. A few days later I saw Sona Ghazarian as Lauretta and thought "She's okay, but she's no Hilda da Groote." Then I saw a Barber of Seville in which Sona Ghazarian was replaced by Rohangiz Yachmi. I'd have to say, she was no Hilda da Groote either, and she wasn't even a Sona Ghazarian. I adore her name though. I can't imagine it's pronounced the way it looks.

I can't identify musicians at all, except maybe for the oboe player in the Bavarian Radio Orchestra. He (or she) has a little extra tang that I always seem to notice.

Maury D'annato said...

Somewhere out there, alas, there is necessarily a singer who is no Rohangiz Yachmi. Actually it may be me.

Burns said...

I think I'm safe in asserting that the vast majority of singers are no Rohangiz Yachmi. Meanwhile I note that Lisa Saffer is on the Met roster this season so your wish may come true.

Will said...

Saffer was quite lovely and, as always, an enthralling actress at Glimmerglass this summer as La Princesse in Glass' Orphee. We've been very lucky to have had a lot of her in Boston.

alex said...

huh, i've been kicking your thought around for awhile. i never really achieved much facility in piano recognition and was only somewhat able to tell apart violin performers (in many ways, I suspect it had more to do with attention than ability, as well as mere familiarity with certain recordings -- it seems rare that instrumentalists would just litter the ground with recordings of the same stuff over and over, so when you (or more specifically I) identify Milstein playing SS's Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, you're actually doing it on the basis of knowing a specific Milstein performance than Milstein's playing per se).

I think of it kind of like being able to recognize handwriting. It's done more or less with the same implement but the more you pay attention, the more you can tell apart closely matched handwriting samples.

And with voices, it just so happens that the pens themselves will be highly varied!

Um...by which I mean to say, er...nice post, Maury. And I'm seriously envious of not being in NYC or near enough to visit often. :S

There will be the moviecasts, I suppose.

OH, and you might find this interesting. School has access to the Naxos Music Library, which is pretty nice, and I discovered an interesting disc of Strauss opera excerpts that you (and Ms. Monster) might find interesting if you haven't investigated already.

Far as I can tell, it's on the Profil label and it has scenes from Arabella, Rosenkavalier, Daphne, and FrOSch.

I did a quick skim-listen and I think the knockouts are Torsten Karl's Act 2 Kaiser solo in FroSCH (on the basis of this, I think his Apollo track [on this same disc] in Daphne would be equally amazing) and Margaret Teschemacher's Daphne transformation scene. I'll have to relisten, but thought I'd pass this along in case you hadn't already heard wind of yet :)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Great posting and interesting comments.

I'd like to think I can identify a few pianists, but who knows? By "a few," I think I mean three, though there are specific recordings by others I could place, like Peter Serkin's fortepiano records. I would not expect any critic to be able to identify all of the 65 or so pianists, most of them second- or third-tier, from whom WB-C stole the "Hatto" recordings.

I'm much better at voices than other identifications; even there, my accuracy depends significantly on whether I'm listening to a lot of vocal music and how long it is since I've heard a particular singer. Don't ask me to tell Norena from Bori this week...oh, wait, I could tell Norena from Bori this week.

It's not purely the tone when I'm doing vocal identifications. Sometimes it's the attack, sometimes the pronunciation, sometimes a little lift to a note, or some quality of the legato. Some singers do have such a distinctive sound that their names will pop out by the third note.

That 60/40 split Marc suggests is plausible, though I'd guess it varies by instrument and by individual.

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