Monday, January 09, 2006

Rattling Some Cages

David Hurwitz of Classics Today is one of the few English-language classical record reviewers left who can really pull off a good old-fashioned panning. Today he gives a roasting to Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic in a recording of Schubert's "Great" Symphony. Not having heard the recording, I don't know if Hurwitz is being fair, but it's fun to read.

Simon Rattle seems to be a particular favorite target of Hurwitz, probably because the British press (which dominates English-language classical record reviewing, largely because most American music magazines abandoned serious classical record criticism years ago) considers him an irreproachable golden boy. For some reason, British record critics have a tendency toward national chauvinism; look at the "Penguin Guide" to classical recordings, by three veteran British writers, and you'll notice a strong but clear bias toward recordings by artists who either are British or led British orchestras. I'm not sure where this tendency comes from, but it's alternately infuriating and endearing.

The French, who probably have the largest amount of classical record criticism these days, don't appear to be as much in love with homegrown artists as the British. And the Americans, of course, are famous for their inferiority complex when it comes to home-grown classical artists (so that for many years almost no major American orchestra was led by an American, and American singers had to make their reputations in Europe before they could be taken seriously at home). Though the old High Fidelity magazine had a few chauvinists in there, like Robert C. Marsh, a Chicago-based critic; Marsh wrote a book about James Levine that is the most embarrassingly hagiographic book ever written about any musician, period.

Back to Simon Rattle, then: based on his recordings, I'm not precisely sure why his reputation is as big as it is, so that might explain why I'm receptive to Hurwitz's Rattle-bashing.

1 comment: said...

I couldn't agree more with your assessment of Robert C. Marsh's book on James Levine as being "the most embarrassingly hagiographic book about any musican, period." I would just add two things: 1) the book ends up being an exercise in SELF-hagiography, so often does Marsh get Maestro Levine to shower HIM with praise; and 2) Marsh gets downright ugly in his appallingly nasty, and 90 percent inaccurate, assessment of Jean Martinon, who, following his stormy five-year tenure as music director, left the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in even better shape than he found it.