Intonation problems.......

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Intonation problems.......

I was listening to the Leinsdorf Walkure recording the other day and was repeatedly struck by how often Birgit Nilsson (as Brunnhilde) has trouble singing on pitch. After a while, I found myself wincing in advance of the approaching wrong note. (If you want a taste of this, listen to the "Siegmund!" section, where she commands him not to open his eyes and look at her, and has that great exchange with him about Valhalla.) I don't think my ears are particularly sensitive, in this regard, by the way. 

I am not for one minute suggesting that she isn't a great Wagnerian singer.......but it did make me wonder just how important intonation matters are when it comes to assessing a given performance. Most people, I suppose, are prepared to overlook a few lapses, though I suspect they would be less forgiving if there were too many. It also made me wonder how many other top level singers have intonation problems. Or, for that matter, how many ensembles or instrumentalists do. I remember, for instance, that this used to crop up in reviews of the Lindsay quartet. On the other hand, in one of my opera guides (I can't look it up right now - baby sleeping upstairs), the author asserts that Domingo has literally never sung a wrong note in his life..........

Speaking a little more personally, I tend to find quite a lot of violin recordings to be a bit on the sharp side - though I have never managed to work out if this is because they really are sharp or because it just seems that way to me. A little sharpness adds to the "cut" of the sound and can (perhaps) be valuable in that respect. There is also the question of vibrato and its impact on the perceived pitch. Do you wobble up to the pitch or do you wobble down or do you wobble around it?

Intonation issues.

To start with: Nilsson used to sing sharp. Recordings, unfortunately, cannot do full justice to Nilsson's glorious voice and powerful singing. Leinsdorf's Walkure, for all its advantages (a unique Vickers at his highest, a sensitive very beautifully delivered Brouwenstijn, Leinsdorf's exciting pace a.o.), it is another "uneven" but still interesting (for Wagnerians) set to have. For Nilsson's admirers, this is the set where one can listen to her youthful yet stupendous voice. For more mature and well-rounded performances, one can look for Solti or Bohm's full Ring sets.

Personally, I appreciate a singer's overall performance in delivering a role that can do full justice to her singing...for all its occasional flaws of intonation.

Many other great singers justify their problems with intonation through excessive but "well put" vibrato (Pavarotti would have been another singer without his vibrato).

As for violinists, to be "sharp" often is almost a must. My friend violinist (first violinist in a local orchestra and her chamber music group), whenever she performs as a soloist, she opts for some intonation lapses for more expressive delivery of the piece in question (whatever it might mean to any single listener though).

Parla

janeeliotgardiner wrote: I

janeeliotgardiner wrote:

I remember, for instance, that this used to crop up in reviews of the Lindsay quartet.

There's some really bad intonation in their 9 volume Beethoven set. But the worst of all is the famous Busch recording. Unlistenable to all but the tone deaf.

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