HOW CAN YOU
TELL? – Pt 2
The short answer is you can’t tell. No musical performance is definitively good or bad. Opinions always differ.
For decades received wisdom said Beethoven’s metronome must have been faulty, too fast*. So his speed markings were ignored, especially for the piano sonatas. The pianist Friedrich Gulda (who also plays jazz) accepts LvB’s markings. Last week I heard his version of the Waldstein. A right gabble it sounded, but there were YouTube commenters who approved.
All performances are subjective. No more so than with the solo voice. That’s why this series – about judging performance – omits voices since they impose yet another layer of subjectivity.
Mozart’s best known aria is probably Voi che sapete (che cosa e amor) (You who know what love is). I tried out six sopranos, one after the other, on YouTube. First, singing voice tones differ as widely as talking voices and can’t be measured, that choice is up to you. Second, Mozart’s Cherubino doesn’t suit all voices; this aria was too low for instance for Joan Sutherland the diva’s diva in bel canto roles like Lucia di Lammermoor and La Sonnambula. Third, over two or three decades the style of singing this aria has changed radically. Sutherland and (this surprised me) Elizabeth Schwarzkopf articulate the words precisely; younger singers like Frederica von Stade are more legato, giving a smoother effect.
As a result apples aren’t being compared with apples. Any guidance on singing I offered would probably be personal rather than factual. Also, these differences are quite easy to recognise without my dubious help. Comparing instrumentalists (mainly pianists and violinists) is harder and orchestras even harder so that’s what I’m concentrating on.
*Surely LvB would have known. Or is this a polite way of saying he was wrong?