A Venerable English Maestro Trashes The Period Instrument Movement
Sir Colin Davis, 85 , one of the most revered conductors of our time , has recently vented his spleen at the so-called "Historically Informed Performance " crowd . Period instrument ensembles, which use instruments of the past or reproductions thereof , and which follow th elatest musicological research on the supposedly "correct" and "authentic way to perform the music of the past , have been all the rage for many years now, and conductors such as John Eliot Gardiner,Roger Norrington, Christopher Hogwood of England ,Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Frans Bruggen , and others from mainland Europe have become classical superstars .
But in a recent interview in London according to musical journalist Norman Lebrecht at his blog , Sir Colin is frankly appalled by many of these so-called "authentic" performances . According to Sir Colin , who has conducted virtually all the world's greatest orchestras and opera ocmpanies for nearly 60 years in a repertoire ranging from the 18th century to the present day , the proverbial baby has been thrown pout with the bathwater .
In their zeal to rid performances of the music of Bach,Handel,Mozart,Haydn, Beethoven and even Brahms of "stylistic anachronisms" and to come as close as possible to the way things were actually done in the past , many of these "HIP" musicians have reduced the performance of music to a didactic display of mere correctness rather than a spontaneous and passionate communication of the spirit of the music .
According to this old lion of English classical music, " I think that these people have hijacked the repertory to give themselves something to do . The way they play baroque music is unspeakable. It's entirely theoretic . Most don't play the music because it's moving . They do it to crank out theories about bows, gut strings , old instruments and phrasing . I've heard Bach especially mangled as though he has no emotional content ."
Whew ! it takes guts to say something like this in these days when it's not at all politicaly correct , and so many HIP musicians claim to have founjd the one and only "right" way to perform the music of the past and sneer at those musicians who insist upon using modern instruments as hopelessly "unenlightened".
Sir Colin goes on to blast his slightly younger contemporary Sir Roger Norrington for performing th emusic of Hector Berlioz, a 19th century composer , without string vibrato, something he mainstains is absolutely necessary for expressive string playing , and which despite the claims of the authenticity crowd , has been used for centuries ,even in the time of Bach and Handel over 250 years ago.
He cites a famous Italian composer who was a contemporary of Bach and Handel as saying that string players should imitate the human voice, which has a natural vibrato . He is correct . Norrington is completely misguided and appallingly dogmatic . He has even gone so far as to play the music of Sir Edward Elgar, who lived from 1857 to 1934 , without string vibrato, which is completely off the wall .
To be fair, I have heard some HIP performances which I enjoyed very much DESPITE the fact that they used period instruments, not because of them . But this just goes to show you , as the noted American musicologist Richard Taruskin has said ,"Instruments don't make music - people do !"