Matching the Hype!

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Matching the Hype!

How many times do we finally get our hands on a much-hyped recording.........only to find out it is a disappointment. (Kleiber's Beethoven 5 anyone?)

 

But sometimes, we find out the recording is everything it is cracked up to be. A few weeks ago, I got hold of the much-praised Tennstedt Mahler 2 with the LPO (live, 1992). I wasn't expecting much. Could it really be everything it was cracked up to be? Could it really offer more than the other Mahler 2s in my collection - Chailly with the Concertgebouw, Rattle with Berlin and the CBSO, Tilson Thomas with San Fransisco, Jurowski with the LPO, Abbado with Lucerne........? 

 

Well, I was wrong. It was astounding. It took about thirty seconds to realise it was in a different league to anything I had heard before. I have listened to it repeatedly since then and I still can't quite believe how good it is. All other versions seem prosaic and earth-bound in comparison.

 

This time the hype was justified - for me, anyway.

 

Has anyone else come across a much-praised recording which actually turned out to be worth the hype?

The Hype?..

I guess that's a very personal and, thus, relative matter. It depends a lot on the recording, the equipment and the room acoustics.

For example, Kleiber's Beethoven (including his Fifth) sound exemplary, at least musically, but I had to try all the different editions (including the SACD format) to find a worth listening one, as a recording product.

Mehta's Mahler Second was a "must" as an LP. On CD, it didn't work that well. Karajan's Der Rosenkavalier and Ariadne auf Naxos were exactly the same case.

On the other hand, Solti's Ring still sounds exceptional (after all these re-editions).

However, all these depends on the actual product and the way you listen to it, at least to a considerable degree.  Therefore, I build my collection disregarding the reviews, the "hype", the current "big" names etc. One of my latest treasures, in sheer listening terms, was a 3CD set of the least known and praised composer, called Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-1780), dealing with his Orchestral and his Cantatas (Das Orchester-und Kantatenwerk), on Querstand. I doubt it will be honoured in any anglophone or francophone review.

Anyway, best wishes, Jane.

Parla

Hype'd recordings

Hi Jane,

Interesting question, not least in the way you put it: the implication seemingly that those 'hyped' recordings that live up to expectations are the exceptions.

To some extent I agree with Parla and have never taken much notice of 'hype'.  That's one reason I've enjoyed the Gramophone's reviews over the years. At their best the lengthy, well-considered reviews have been largely devoid of hype and it's good to see the magazine returning to those values under its new management. Long may it continue.

I never liked the Kleiber Beethoven 5: from the very first notes (wrongly played as triplets - something noted by RO in Gramophone) it annoyed me.  Tennstedt in Mahler is a different case altogether.  I heard several Mahler symphonies live in the RFH (not the second unfortunately) and always came away overwhelmed. Somehow the recordings never recaptured that excitement for me.

At the moment I'm having a bit of a break from Mahler: less is more just now!  You don't find so many chamber music recordings over-hyped!

The Solti Ring is an interesting case.  When Decca issued Rheingold in 1959, Walter Legge commented "very nice but you won't sell any"!  It's easy to forget that the Ring was represented then in the catalogue only by Furtwängler's Vienna Walküre.  The first instalments of Solti's Ring were indeed a courageous and breathtaking achievement and surely worth the 'hype' even if ultimately other recordings have offered more (for some of us at least). And the actual recording was an incredible achievement that set standards that have rarely been equalled and probably never bettered. I can't believe even Decca could have imagined how successful it would be, commercially.

 

Chris

Chris A.Gnostic

The Solti, I suppose, would

The Solti, I suppose, would be a good example of hype followed by sharp disappointment. I came to the Ring through several other versions, but I had always heard that the Solti was the ultimate. It comes up all the time in discussions and reviews and is always highly recommended. After all that, I really thought it was going to be something special.

 

Finally, I listened to it. Is it really all that special? I just can't see it. I can understand that it had a tremendous impact at the time as the first studio recording, but even now - when there are many other Rings to choose from - is it really any good? I have to say that I find it hard to listen to. Most of the singers are just too old - weak and wobbly in some cases - and Birgit Nilsson, though supernaturally powerful and accurate, has a fabulously unattractive voice: something like a piercing, but highly controlled scream. Not singing, anyway.

 

But that's taste, I suppose....... 

 

Taste?..and more.

You may put the "blame" on "taste", I suppose, Jane. However, you have to consider that the "hype" about the Solti Ring has to do -primarily- with the best possible production on record of such a huge and utterly demanding, in almost any possible way, work. In a proper equipment and the appropriate room accoustics, the hype can always be justified. I have never heard anyone, who has listened to this Ring, in the way it was made for, to claim any sort of disappointment.

Of course, none can assert it is the perfect one (however, it is the first time someone states that Nilsson has "a fabulously unattractive voice"!), but it is -still- the only one where the Orchestra, Chorus and Singers can be heard in the most realistic way. Taking into account that VPO and Solti give the utmost in every single passage and all this effort had been recorded as accurate as it could possibly get, the outcome is much more effective than any more "musical", classic or modern Ring can offer (by the way, even the few SACD recorded "Rings", including the new Janowski, on Pentatone, cannot do enough justice to this enormous score).

Of course, if you hear "nothing special" in Solti's Ring, "nothing special" it is...for you. However, you may understand that you belong to a minority...

Parla

I think you'll find that

I think you'll find that responses to the Solti ring have a lot to do with one's age. I really don't think many young listeners, coming to the Ring through the best modern recordings, will think all that much of the Solti Ring. For many older listeners, however, it formed a very important part in their collection; it would have been the first complete ring - the first with decent sound, anyway. For many it is still THE ring, because it was through this recording that they fell in love with the Ring. Nothing will ever change that. There will probably never be another recording like it, just as there will never be another Schnabel Beethoven set and so on. It got there first, more or less, and had an untrampled field to set up its tent.

But looked at afresh, and compared to other versions, there is really nothing special about it at all. As for its wonderful sound - yes, given the time. Marvellous sound for its age. It still sounds good, even now. But let's not pretend that it matches the very best modern recordings. We are talking about a recording that is now sixty years old!

By the way, no need to be so snooty about "my taste." You imply, as so often, that anyone who disagrees with you is wrong or has a defective or uniformed taste. Given the new start we all have on this forum, I think it would be a good idea if you learned to be a little less condescending to other members.

Let's calm things down a bit,

Let's calm things down a bit, Jane shall we. Don't tell me that, when you wrote about one of the great singers of the 20th century, that she had:

"a fabulously unattractive voice: something like a piercing, but highly controlled scream. Not singing, anyway.",

You were not expecting a tart response at the very least! Humour is all very well (if that's what you intended) but, well, it reminds me of your similarly tasteless and OTT comments about Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, which annoyed me very much at the time as I expect you remember. As Queen Victoria is supposed to have said "We are not amused". All I'm saying is that politeness and courtesy is a two-way street.

 

Concerning the Solti Ring, I have to plead guilty to being one of those who learned the Ring from Solti's recording, so perhaps I'm not qualified to comment even though I have long ago come to prefer other versions.  A point to be made here though is that although many now claim to prefer other versions of the cycle, there is no universal agreement as to which other version or versions. For myself, most of the versions I prefer are, unfortunately, much less well recorded than Solti's. So, as a matter of interest, which version or versions are your favourites? Surely not one with the dreadful XX or conducted by the awful YYY (!!!!)

 

All in good humour - please don't take offence!

 

Chris

 

Chris A.Gnostic

Actually, it wasn't meant in

Actually, it wasn't meant in jest, so I don't accept your comment about the two-way street. Surely it isn't "impolite" to state one's views on an artist with sincerity?

 

In any case, I am far from alone in thinking that about Nilsson. It is worth remembering that there are many, many classical fans who simply can't tolerate Wagnerian "singing" of any kind. I am talking about highly cultured people who are otherwise passionately devoted to music - to Mozart, Bach and so on. And Nilsson is one of those singers who, again, a lot of modern/young audiences cannot stomach. For me, it is absolutely abhominable. I repeat: it just doesn't seem like singing. It is very close to screaming in places. You have to admit that: it just is. Compared, let's say, to the real singing we find in a Bach cantata.

Anyhow, nice to see you are taking on your peace-making role again - even if this means you are once again defending Parla, who clearly was being a little patronising, and attacking me in the process! Bravo!

Absolutely, Jane.

Absolutely, Jane.

It is unfortunate, to say that least, the Parla has started his old tricks so soon after the relaunch - and that Chris has stepped right back into his traditional bodyguard role. Very disappointing.

No matter what anyone else says, Parla's comment on your "tastes" clearly is meant to be snide. Chris admits as much when he mentions the "two way street." What doesn't really make any sense is the way he then seeks to undermine your position (you deserved it, apparently, for making critical remarks about Nilsson) without adding a single comment on Parla's condescending remarks. The hypocrisy is quite astonishing.

Same old, same old.

"Surely it isn't "impolite"

"Surely it isn't "impolite" to state one's views on an artist with sincerity?"

Jane,

Surely, to state one's views on an artist (or indeed on anything else for that matter) may be polite or impolite depending on the way those views are expressed. Being abusive sincerely is still abusive isn't it.

 

 

Anyone is entitled to their opinion, but depending on the way opinions are expressed they may arouse respect on the one hand or contempt on the other for the writer. People whose opinions I respect manage to write critically without being abusive.

 

Now, it gets worse! from your last post, I see your complaint is not any more about Nilsson or Solti but about Wagner and Wagnerian singing in general. Might I respectfully suggest that if you hold both in such low esteem (as you are perfectly entitled to do) your opinions on the best Wagner performances may be, well - how about - possibly suspect. I can't put away this impression of your perfect Wagner performance being given by Boys of the St. Thomas Choir in Leipzig. (Sorry for that, but I couldn't resist - very impolite).

 

Let's get back to 'hype', shall we!

 

Chris

 

Chris A.Gnostic

Huh? What makes you think I

Huh? What makes you think I hold Wagner or Wagnerian singing in such low esteem? I don't and I haven't said anything that suggests I do. Your powers of interpretation must be on the blink.

I do think, however, that there is a tradition of Wagnerian bellowing/screaming which serves the music badly, but there are also many wonderful performances out there, too. I suppose my position on Wagner, which I haven't articulated, is somewhat revisionist - but not ill-informed, as you (have no right to) suggest. It has a lot to do with the changing nature of the orchestra (the use of metal strings, for instance), the intense use of vibrato (which developed after Wagner) and the fact that singers have had to focus on strength and projection at the expense of beauty, simply to be heard. David Breckbill has written: ‘The differences between the singing which Wagner knew and that which we hear today are considerable. In his day, the best singing was far from straight-toned … but the continuous vibrato which has long been an element in present-day operatic singing [designed to project and colour the voice] was entirely foreign to him." 

So, it is possible to "sing" in Wagner (as in Bach!), but the conditions have to be right and it has to be approached in the right way.

I don't think this means I hold Wagner in low esteem. On the contrary, I hold him in the very highest esteem possible. For me, he is second only to Mozart. I just have strong views about the way his music ought to be performed and happen to find some of the celebrated performances unpalatable. As, indeed, to many other devoted Wagnerians.  

 

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