Friday, October 24, 2008


I'm out of date. Yesterday I picked up a copy of BBC Music for September in a Borders in Albuquerque. I'm in Albuquerque. There's an interview with Renée Fleming about her at that time up coming recording of the Four Last Songs.

She talks about aging and retirement, though I would like to say I am hearing nothing that would indicate this is eminent. There are theories about each singer having a million notes. Placido must have passed his million long ago, I would think. I think Renée is singing better than ever now.

In her retirement she would think about teaching people the art of recitals, something she thinks is dying. I think what has died is the art of programming. The academic model for a recital has taken over. A recital used to be like a pop concert, and still is when the performer is Cecilia Bartoli. You pick out interesting songs and you string them together. You try to cover a lot of emotional extremes and be sure there is plenty of variety.

The academic model says you must start with early music--classic Italian, Gluck, something like that--and move on gradually through later periods. As much as possible, larger works such as song cycles should be presented instead of individual unrelated songs. I say perform something people will like hearing, something you love. Have fun. If you love it, they will, too.

Next to the interview with Renée Fleming was a list of recommended recordings of the Four Last Songs of R. Strauss. The reviewer doesn't like the second of Schwarzkopf's recordings. He complains if the high notes are not perfect. He complains constantly abut every conceivable detail. He bitches if their German isn't right. He complains about the tempo. (I know--it might be a she.)

My opinions hardly ever reach to that level of detail. I know that when I was performing, I worked over all the details repeatedly until I was satisfied, but I wasn't trying to reach technical perfection--I was trying to achieve a certain emotion. I remember in a class in college a student sang Brahms' "Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer" and managed a feeling of intense nostalgia and quiet longing. I wished in that moment to try to achieve the emotion she had achieved, though our voices were completely different. I like to feel that I did.

But the writers aren't talking about the feelings of each performance. They think there is only one way to sing it, and they criticize if anything is off from that perfection. My own opinions are almost the opposite. If I feel nothing, then I criticize. I want each performer to find her own joy. More than anything else I think the four songs are about singing, and I want to hear the passion for singing. When the lines soar, your heart must also soar.

There is a deep sadness in this music, a sense of resignation, and I want to feel this, too.

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