Something new in Mozart interpretation?

Monday, 3. August 2009

While there is much to admire in the skill, dedication and courage of the people who bring us classical music, there is often much to deplore in their interpretive abilities, which tend to follow the meme of their era in quite a predictable way. Who would have really heard the essence of Bach’s Cello Suites before Pablo Casals, yet now everyone is at it, giving them more bite and resonance than they merit sometimes, because no one knows how they really “should” sound. So even a fairly staid version like the Yo Yo Ma is highly rated when it is tame compared to Casals himself and some of the recent Russian efforts.

If classical performers were photographers and we were using the concept of contrast we might differentiate between the high contrast, edgy, nervy, explorative, sometimes monochrome mode of interpretation and the blander, more colourful, more lyrical tendency that was very strong before what’s his name came along with the best-ever selling classical recording, his famous Four Seasons. Now every scrap of old Italian music, which used to be ignored or when played sound like metronomic Scarlatti, is being given the authentic oomph by tight little chamber orchestras with charismatic leaders, usually claiming to use period instruments to produce their sharp but grainy sounds. A good thing, probably, because Bach used to be boring when it was done as a babbling brook and Haydn still is so often turned into chocolate box that anything else is welcomed by listeners who are gasping for something with some sex about it.

By complete contrast, the classic German interpretations of Beethoven have always been far too harsh and it’s taken diverse foreigners and methods to find the inner lyricism, the two calling birds that are forever chirping at each other, even in his grandest pieces and intrinsically modernist late quartets.

Poor old Brahms seems to be the ultimate victim, a man for whom the peel of bells is the prime inner compass, a music that seems to fall heavily between whatever compass points professional musicians happen to be adjusting the direction in whatever epoch. They still haven’t mastered Brahms. And I wonder about Schubert, the great unpredictable, source of such sweet melodies and such God-awful, all-over-the-place discord at the same time.

And how about Mozart? So perfect in so many ways. Surely a genius that great can’t have intended so much slush to issue from his instant creations. Surely they can feel the scope for mood in all those endless sonatas and concertos that are so often reduced to technically proficient Muzac… Doesn’t Mozart, more than any composer, need a Nigel Kennedy to come along and kick some ass?

Well, in my view, it has finally happened, and the critics overwhelmingly agreed on giving it five stars. If you want to rethink Mozart so it has something in its trousers, have a listen to this from Kremer.

One Response to “Something new in Mozart interpretation?”



  1. Michael Heaney Says:

    I see that Mozart has just brought out a couple of new pieces –
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8180138.stm

    Has he finally got over his writers block and started composing again?
    Looking forward to the new album….
    Michael

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