Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Performance that Means Something

These days it seems that so much of my listening time is occupied with obligations associated with my Examiner.com writing that I am not always sure what I want to choose when left to my own devices. Perhaps as a result of spending so much time attending performances, I have come to realize that these days I am less interested in the music than I am in who is doing the performing. This feeling has been brewing for some time.

I suppose it can be traced back to when I chose to write about Wilhelm Furtwängler: The Great EMI Recordings. This was a collection of 21 CDs; and I realized that, if I wanted to be fair, I would have to break this down into manageable segments. I also know, even if only intuitively, that the best way to begin would be with the recordings in this collection of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven. Regular readers know that I tend to be very picky about my Beethoven, and I know enough to avoid declaring everything he ever wrote to be a masterpiece. (For that matter, I try very hard to avoid the word "masterpiece" in just about any occasion.)

The point is that there are Beethoven pieces that tend to leave me cold, regardless of the size of audiences that flock to them. The best example is that I am always very cautious when approaching any performance or recording of Fidelio. As fate would have it, this opera was included in the EMI collection in its entirety. To my surprise I found myself drawn into Furtwängler's interpretation of the score. I realized that, however contrived (if not downright silly) the plot was, Furtwängler's was committed enough to that narrative that he was determined to conduct it as if it actually meant something. This was not a matter of one to sit on the edge of his/her seat wondering would happen next. We all know "what happens next!" Rather, Furtwängler approached the music like a storyteller recounting a familiar tale. Whether or not one knew what would happen, one wanted to hear how he would tell that story.

I suppose that is why so many people would prefer to listen to the recording he made in 1953 over any number of other recordings with all the advantages of far more sophisticated technology.

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