I'm growing increasingly irritated with all the high-definition conductors, who make symphonies sound the way football games look on those coveted vast, flat screens. Digital video gives everything that comes before the camera a relentless clarity. Every clump of sod and chiselled blade of Astroturf impresses itself on the retina. Real life looks bleary by comparison. In the 1970s, the bleached look and meandering camera of movies like Dog Day Afternoon captured the moist haze of New York City in summertime. The fuzziness evoked the sense that most of what we see as we stumble through our lives looks slightly out of focus, slouching at the edge of consciousness. In the 90s, the cop show Homicide launched the era of the jiggling camera, which likewise suggested that experience was too fast and complex to absorb it all. These days, omniscience is in. No image is too trivial to deserve multi-megapixel resolution. Any banal snapshot of a salivating dog can look epic, if the screen it's shown on is huge and expensive enough. Architects, too, create big pictures of squint-inducing brilliance. Look out of a high floor of most new office towers and you will see the horizon dramatically framed by expanses of ultra-clear, low-iron glass. Skycrapers offer a skydiver's-eye view.
Simon Rattle's performance of Ravel's Mother Goose and Strauss' Ein Heldenleben with the Berlin Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall were similarly full of overweeningly magnified detail. You could make out the highlights on all those all those crystalline tremolos and follow the curve of each dewdrop pizzicato. It seems strange to criticize an orchestra for clarity, both because it is so difficult to achieve and because we have come to accept it as the standard of textual authenticity. According to current orthodoxy, since the composer took the trouble to write all those damned little squiggles into the score (and implied a whole lot more), the best performance is the one that makes audible as much of the filigree as possible. This is, in different guises, the principle that guides performers as ostensibly distinct as authentic performance practice gurus, minimalist burblers, and Boulez and his Boulezzini. But, really, what's so terrible about about letting the edges of a chord bleed a bit, or letting some of those waves of fast fiddle notes gurgle indistinctly? Sometimes some judiciously applied atmospheric murk–what a pianist would call pedal–gets closer to the essential truth.
JDavidson8 at nyc.rr.com