A classical music blog by music critic Tim Mangan
Review: Denève, Los Angeles Philharmonic sparkle in Rachmaninoff. Orange County Register, April 25, 2014.
classical music, reviews
Bartok, Gil Shaham, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Rachmaninoff, Stephane Deneve
April 26, 2014
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Spot on review, Tim. I, like you, have never been crazy about 2nd Symphony but this performance made me want to reassess the piece. I heard it last night at Segerstrom and that hall seemed a perfect venue for this symphony.
Thanks for the review. I’m a big fan of Shaham and very sorry to have missed him. He’s quite a musician.
There are certainly valid reasons to criticize Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. And yet, for an orchestra that just before last week went through a fortnight-long minimalistic maxi-marathon made up of several different programs including a couple of all-Glass concerts, complaints of “inane repetitions of inane phrases” in the Rachmaninov sound more than a little bit ironic and possibly even very unfair. As for the Bartok’s Second “Fiddle” Concerto, no disagreements there – it’s a great piece.
The repetitions in Rachmaninoff are of an entirely different kind than the repetitions in minimalism, and they serve a different musical function. And who says if one thing is inane another can’t be? I certainly find at least some minimalism to be inane and not all Rachmaninoff to be so.
There’s a famous poem by the Roman poet Martial, translated thus:
“I do not like thee Dr. Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell,
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like thee Dr. Fell.”
A critic should tell why he doesn’t like something. The “why” of it is more important than the opinion itself. We cannot always know the reasons we don’t like something; sometimes we can’t say why we do. But to explore the “why” part of it is valuable to the reader and listener, I believe. And those repetitions in the Rachmaninoff Second bother me, because in context, I feel, they are inane.
Thanks for a serious reply to my comment. So, what are the different musical functions of repetitions in those two cases? And if Rachmaninov’s repetitions do serve a certain musical function, then how can they be inane?
For me as a listener, and possibly as a performer too, it is rather simple: if a musical phrase is musically meaningful, it may be worth repeating once or twice. The more meaning in a phrase, the more repetitions it can sustain without becoming inane, and vice versa. Measuring the amount of meaning in a phrase is obviously not an exact science and is highly subjective, just like most other judgements in music in other arts. But i have not yet encountered a musical phrase that would justify scores of uninterrupted unchanged repetitions.
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