Saturday, December 25, 2010

On traditions, art and egos. A Messiah review.

It is Christmas Morning. We had our visit with the offspring a few weeks earlier and  will join a number of friends at someone's home later.  The pies for that gathering are made. We have unburdened ourselves of the whole gift-giving. We are just not doing it anymore and that is that. What a relief!

But one nice, stress-free Christmas tradition we enjoy is listening to Messiah on CBC. I have not been  a Christian since age 15, but love this music. We even remembered to turn it on at the beginning instead of stumbling on it halfway.

Alas, I am disappointed. The performance is off in some way. Something is missing.

Now I will be the first to admit that I am not a good judge of music. My dear father bequeathed me both his love of singing and his tin ear. This is more a gut feeling that something is not quite right. My husband, who is more musically literate, agrees. So we continue to listen, and we are trying to put our joint fingers, or rather ears, on WHY
we don't like this version.

To start with, the choirs are just too skimpy. We need more voices here! The solo voices are beautiful, no complaints there. But the orchestra is playing with a precise see-sawing quality that one associates with Bach, rather than the more swingy way of Handel.
There may be correct terms for what I am trying to say, but I don't know them.

My main complaint is this: the whole performance has an understated, cerebral feel to it.
Chris used the term mechanical. Yes. Controlled is another word that comes to mind.
We wondered if the conductor was trying  too hard to put his own stamp on the production. A performing artist doing a classic may want to tweak the work in order to be original. Was the conductor imposing his own ego on the music instead of allowing it to flow freely through him?

We looked up the conductor. Kent Nagano, an American of Japanese origin, in charge of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Now that was interesting. It made us wonder if there was an influence of the Japanese minimalistic esthetic? You know, three pebbles and a piece of driftwood carefully placed on a stretch of sand raked just so? It has never appealed to me. Give me an English cottage garden, a riot of colour almost going wild.
The metaphors are getting mixed here, and anyway, this is a personal preference, not a value judgment.

The bottomline is that I felt as if the interpretation was coming between me and a favorite piece of music.

Next year I hope the Messiah will less subtle and more exuberant.

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