Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Assumptions

I am still pondering Alex Ross' article on the effects of recordings on classical music. The main effect seems to have been a fanatical desire to "improve" performance standards. I have been known to complain about this, too. The whole assumption that more accurate equals better is to think about.

I had the privilege at various times to work under Robert Shaw, the great choral conductor. Shaw always spent quite a lot of time in rehearsal working on the intonation of the chorus, trying to get everyone to sing precisely accurate pitches. For instance, certain intervals if sung precisely in tune will generate a sympathetic tone, and Shaw would try to get the chorus to hear this note. It didn't seem to matter how big the chorus was, since we were doing Beethoven and Brahms at the time, and the chorus could get quite large.

The sound of a well-tuned chorus is quite different, and some of the most wonderful choral music I've ever heard was with Shaw. But compare his Rachmaninov "Vespers" with this one called "Evening Star" with the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir on Philips. Do we really love the tuned version more than the rawer Russian one?

The process of finding true expression is a great challenge.

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