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Magdalena Kožená (Mezzo-soprano, Soprano)

Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works

General Discussions – Part 2


Continue from Part 1

Kozena and Goebel

Matthew Westphal
wrote (May 4, 2003):
Izabela Zbikowska says: >>> The fact that Goebel is using her voice for a Bach recording is a reflection of Kozena's stardom and the fact that she is a DG artist. >>>
Izabela Zbikowska, did Goebel tell you that? Did someone at DG tell you that? Or is that just conjecture on your part?

I understand that Goebel is rather notorious in the musical community for exacting perfectionism and for stubbornness. I find it difficult to believe that he would allow DG to coerce him to use a singer he didn't want to use. (Has Goebel worked with Kozena on concert programs that weren't to be recorded? Certainly DG would have no say in that.)

Could it simply be that Izabela Zbikowska's and Goebel's tastes differ?

Johan van Veen wrote (May 4, 2003):
[To Matthew Westphal] I find it very difficult to believe that Goebel would work with singers he doesn't like. He is just not that kind of person, as far as I can tell. But I have no clue what kind of singers he prefers. Sometimes I like the singers he works with, in other cases I dislike them very much. Some examples of the latter category are Anne-Sofie von Otter and Christina Schäfer (both not HIP enough) and the tenor Max Ciolek (boring).

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 5, 2003):
[To Matthew Westphal & Johan van Veen] Both von Otter and Schafer recorded solo discs with Goebel and both are DG artists (well, Schafer is not anymore). It is rather logical that DG would use its own resources for recitals - that's after all what the idea of 'exclusive contracts' (however absurd and detrimental to music it is) is about. I think Schafer's Bach disc was bad - but it probably had to be done since Schafer was known as a Bach singer before her DG contract. The same is with Kozena and there is nothing strange about it, my only objection is the inclusion of the rather well represented BWV 170 (ca. 25 mins long although i am sure Goebel can get through it in 20 mins) instead of some rarity, a strange decision considering that the Bachiana series is supposed to be devoted to rarities from the Bach family archives and there is more to those than the material that was recorded already. I don't know if Goebel can or not be forced to work with Kozena - I am in no position to know the answer to this question, but I think Goebel is in no position to refuse if DG proposes such a projetc. Because of the financial problems in classical music industry, record companies must rely on their own resources and musicians within a company have to cooperate. Plans for recordings are made not only by the artists, but also by executive directors who often know very little about music but they want to get as much profit from a recording as possible. To me this new Bachiana disc's programme proves that it was devised as a showcase for Kozena.

As to my taste and Goebel's - well, they DO differ a lot. I find MAKoeln's
playing rather rough and scratchy and often unmusical although I remember I was really taken by their enthusiasm when they performed in NYC a few years ago. They simply couldn't stop playing, every - even a very short - applause was an invitation to a series of rather longish encores. It was a wonderful evening, a real feast for my HIP soul but I would probably find it tiring today because now I am as unHIP as possible and my ears can't find any excuse for scratchy playing, however 'learned' this excuse may be.

As to von Otter's two discs with Goebel, I found them fascinating but mostly because of von Otter herself. The Marian Cantatas disc is one of my all time favorites, in spite of some rough orchestral playing.

Speaking of MAKöln, I wonder if they are still with DG - after all the Yellow Label just signed a new original instruments group (actually better than MAK in my opinion) and it is hard to imagine DG keeping them both. Sb asked about future plans for MAK at the DG website, but they never answered. Strange things are going on in DG nowadays and it is only sad to see how much money and effort is being wasted. but that's a completely different story...

Gene Hanson wrote (May 5, 2003):
< Izabela Zbikowska wrote: now I am as unHIP as possible and my ears can't find any excuse for scratchy playing, however 'learned' this excuse may be. >
May I quote you on this? (I wholeheartedly agree.)

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 5, 2003):
[To Gene Hanson] LOL LOL LOL ... sure! unHIPpers of the world unite! Best greetings....

Steven Guy wrote (May 5, 2003):
[To Gene Hanson] I'd like to know some examples of 'scratchy playing'. Please give some examples. I've been listening to period instrument recordings all my life – ever since I first heard Concentus Musicus Wien as a kid. I am completely at home with the sound of Baroque and Renaissance instruments and I play the cornetto myself - I don't play any 'modern' instruments at all any more.

Before the Early Music movement came along people would airily talk about how 'such and such' a conductor would 'know' the score and look at the sources. People would rave on about Beethoven's use of 'tone colour' and his orchestrations. Ditto for Berlioz. Any chamber orchestra using a harpsichord in Baroque music was automatically assumed to be doing the 'right thing' by this music. It was assumed that some instruments were interchangeable - recorder parts could be played on modern metal flutes - viola da gamba parts on modern 'cellos. Anyway, composer in those days were pretty ignorant and/or apathetic about instrumentation and we know better than they did as to what works best in their music today!

People like Harnoncourt, Hogwood, Munrow and others came along and challenged these ideas. Can we ever be exactly authentic with Baroque and Renaissance music? Of course not! But it is worth trying to make this music live 'within its means', live with grace and use the freedoms within the music. People always trot out the old chestnut 'composers would prefer modern instruments'. This is complete bunk. The truth is that they didn't have and nor could they imagine 20th century instruments. If people want to play Bach on the piano they should do so - but I do not believe that such recordings or performances can ever be definitive - just as the Brandenburg Concerti played on the synthesizer might be very interesting, but such a recording can never be regarded as even close to the kinds of performances Bach imagined for these works.

The problem many people seem to have is that a Baroque violin superficially looks like a modern violin (or should I say - a highly modified Baroque violin). A harpsichord is a keyboard instrument like the piano. On a subconscious level we might assume that the modern equivalent is somehow better or an improvement on the Baroque instrument. One might not like the sound of some Baroque instruments - just as we might not always like the sounds of modern instruments (I can't stand the sound of electric guitars). I feel that the use of period instruments in Baroque music is very worthwhile and such recordings and performances help us understand the sounds, music, ideas and feelings expressed in this music. If an orchestra or a performer uses modern instruments I feel that there should be some sort of reason for doing so. What can a Steinway bring to the music of Froberger or Frescobaldi? What can an orchestra of modern strings bring to a work like Brandenburg Concerto No. 6? Such modern modes of performance may please modern audiences but can they bring us any closer to the composer and his or her ideas, sounds and feelings? I strongly doubt it.

Scratchy violins? Who???? Manze? Podger? Kuijken? Huggett? Alice Harnoncourt? Goebel? Schröder? van Dael?

Violins were used in different ways in the Baroque. In the 17th century some regarded the violin as a strident and slightly vulgar instrument - especially compared to the sound of viols. Violins and cornetti were considerto be interchangeable in the early 17th century. Vivaldi's concerti sound much more lively and colourful when played on Baroque strings - rather than the smooth and prosaic approach taken by modern chamber orchestras. I think that we should give some credit to Baroque composers for writing appropriate and idiomatic music for the instruments they knew. If we can accept Baroque music on Baroque instruments then can we really say that we really like Baroque music?

If a group of musicians in the 22nd century played Jazz on modern instruments - instruments that didn't exist in the 20th century – could they really say that they were respecting this music in any sort of complete way? Playing Baroque music on modern electronic and electric instruments might be interesting from time to time, but I don't think that any one of us would suggest that anyone should regard such an approach as anything but a novelty in this music. Switched-On Bach was probably a good (and painless) introduction to Bach's music for a number of people, but we wouldn't suggest that this recording is in any way a 'definitive' or even 'normal' recording of this music. S-O Bach was fun and entertaining and I enjoyed it as much as anyone but I don't think anyone, even Wendy Carlos, had any pretences about this recording.

Bach's music, like all Baroque music, requires some effort to perform and perform well. I do not believe for one moment that 'anything goes' in this music. This music is a legacy left to us to care for and cherish - we owe the people who created this music a lot and we should respect them and their music. I do not believe in the Western 20th century 'might makes right' approach to the Arts and Music of the past and other cultures.

PS: I also do not like Ms Bernarda Fink's voice. She ruined Paul McCreesh's Messiah and nearly ruined Hogwood's Rinaldo (every other singer on that recording was fine in my book). She has the terminal wobbles and it now sounds undisciplined, thoughtless and automatic. Weird, because she used to be quite a good singer. Blank sounding voices are wrong for Baroque music but singers need to do Baroque things in Baroque music - messa di voce is the correct ornament for sustained notes! This is well known! How many singers do that these days?!!

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 5, 2003):
[To Steven Guy] Thank you very much for your message. I can only speak as a non musician whose ears actually feel a terrible discomfort at the sound of some of the 'original' orchestras. I don't know what it is and I can't help it. I should also add that I won't try to help it for I heard enough of HIP performances of various kind to know that the problem is not in my ears......

My belief is that performing music is as much about respecting the composer's intentions as it is about making it sound like music and not exercise. I simply believe in musicianship. I even think that musicianship is more important than scholarship (although i am a scholar myself). We will never really know how the music was performed in, say, Bach's time and it is actually irrelevant.

Authenticity lies not in instruments, not in voices but in sincerity of emotions that motivate people when they perform music. I am talking here about serious music performances, not pop arrangements however sincere the motivations of such performers may be. Everything has to be done in accordance with a set of parameters that we BELIEVE (and nothing more than that!) reflects the esthetics of the period to which the piece of music belongs. Yet our search for 'learned' authenticity is superficial because in our effort to find the 'authentic' sound, we forget about the music itself. There is more authenticity in one bar of Klemperer's or Furthwaengler's or Jochum's performances of Bach's choral works than in hours of McCreesh's. It is not about McCreesh's ideas - I don't care whether he is right or wrong - it is about
his total lack of humanity. I am calling McCreesh's name out of the blue, but his SMP is just the most recent example of how a 'scholarly' attitude destroys musicianship. There are conductors who are both scholars and artists (if you want my opinion, it is Jacobs, Harnoncourt, Herreweghe and sometimes Gardiner) and they know how to balance research and art. The same applies to instrumentalists and vocalists. I am willing to forgive occassional imperfections - such as in the early HIP recordings of Bach's cantatas by Harnoncourt - where the sincerity of motivations is obvious. There was also a time in the HIP history when it was very easy to become a musician in an orchestra even if you were a bad instrumentalist. Playing bad was 'original' in itself. I don't think this is true nowadays - the competition is simply too big, but there are still scratchy and out of tune orchestras (I will try to find a few examples for you tomorrow). One comes to me right now: in McCreesh's SMP the solo violin in Erbarme dich is simply a disgrace! don't you agree that such an important solo and in a studio recording should be done perfectly?

You are obviously used to and attached to the 'original' sound and I believe it is simply a matter of personal taste. The very fact that Bernarda Fink, whose name was called here a few times mostly to give an example of terrible vibrato that spoils recordings, is used by such HIP condfuctors as Harnoncourt , Jacobs, Hogwood or Gardiner proves again that the debate about the 'baroque' sound is open and will be open forever. The only thing we have today and can rely on are our ears - if they send me signals that this is wrong, that's enough for me to turn off the CD player. But others may find the very performance a balm to their ears. And that's what it is all about. There is so much recorded classical music to explore that one can't afford wasting time on mediocrity. And many HIP recordings are unfortunately terribly mediocre. So are for that matter many traditional recordings, don't take me wrong! But for me the label HIP will never be enough as a recommendation in itself....

Johan van Veen wrote (May 5, 2003):
< Gene Hanson wrote: May I quote you on this? (I wholeheartedly agree.) >
Would that make your messages more convincing? ;)

Peter Bright wrote (May 5, 2003):
The jury still seems out with respect to Kozena's ability in the British press. I have pasted two rather negative reviews of the same concert given at the Wigmore Hall in London, both of which point to issues raised by list members here (her limitations in languages other than Czech, Italian and Russian) and her intonation/expression. But surely, seven languages in one recital is a tad excessive(?). Of course there are many glowing reports of her performances, both in recordings and recitals too. Personally, her early Bach arias disc is one of my most played and treasured discs, and I have two friends who have been turned on to Bach through hearing this one. Perhaps the fact that I don't speak German helps(!) but she is probably my favourite classical singer of the moment...

Tim Ashley
Wednesday March 5, 2003
The Guardian

The Czech mezzo Magdalena Kozena is a puzzling artist. During her comparatively brief career, she has gained a considerable following and inspired something akin to adulation. This is the sort of treatment once reserved for great divas, and which Kozena does not yet merit. She is glamorous, but her artistry leaves something to be desired. With the exception of a couple of well-known songs by Duparc, her Wigmore programme consisted of comparative rarities, ranging from lesser-known Czech composers to infrequently performed cycles by Britten and Shostakovich. She opened with Petr Eben's multilingual Six Minnelieder and sang in seven languages during the evening: Czech, Russian, German, French, Italian, English and Scots.

This was impressive though perhaps unwise; Kozena sounds comfortable only in Czech, Russian and Italian. Shostakovich's Satires, with which she closed her programme, consequently had tremendous bite and scathing irony. And she unleashed arching phrases of the Italian canzona that forms the fourth song of Eben's cycle with great passion and sensuality. Northern Nig, a setting of Russian symbolist poetry by the Czech composer Jaroslav Kricka, was a brooding study in post-Wagnerian sexuality and emotional alienation.

Elsewhere, however, her diction slipped and the impact of an individual song frequently depended on whether her vocal timbre suited the music. Without suggestive textual inflections, her Duparc was simply not voluptuous enough. Eben's setting of Villon's famous poem about "the snows of yesteryear" vanished beneath an indistinct verbal flurry. Britten's A Charm of Lullabies brought with it some very occluded Scots for the Burns setting, though in the final number, The Nurse's Song, Kozena was ravishing. Throughout, Malcolm Martineau was a perceptive accompanist, particularly relishing Kricka's chromatic intensity. But this was an uneven concert, exposing too many flaws in Kozena's methodology to allow us to rank her among the great singers of our time.

-----------------

Magdalena Kozena, Wigmore Hall, London
By Edward Seckerson
06 March 2003

Magdalena Kozena is climbing everyone's A list. She's set to work with Simon Rattle at Glyndebourne, Salzburg and Berlin. Deutsche Grammophon has signed her to an exclusive contract. The marketing men are poised. She sounds as good as she looks. Striking voice, bony catwalk countenance. She is blonde and fragile. The voice is dark and robust. I hear they're dubbing her "the operatic Bond girl". Well, that's it, then. What more could anyone want?

Actually, a lot. They cheered her at this, her second Wigmore Hall appearance, but one thing was clear before even her first set of songs had ended: her grasp of how sound relates to sense and feeling, and the role that words play in that equation, left much to be desired.

Kozena is Czech, and to her credit she chose a Czech first half: Eben, Rosler, Vorisek, Kricka. A wise move, you might say, since points of comparison were at once redundant. But that wasn't the issue. In Eben's Six Minnelieder, settings embracing four languages, little distinction was made between them. That I can live with. But when every song is virtually identical, when little or no sense of their mood or sentiment is conveyed, then I worry.

Kozena has an awkward demeanour, the smiles almost apologetic, the hands stiff. But it extends to her singing, which fails to charm. The marketing men may exploit her sexual allure but the singing will have none of it. The sound is gorgeous in repose (less so when aroused) but the phrasing is never a come-on. Any singer who fails to seduce us with Henri Duparc should be asking why. She sang "L'Invitation au voyage" with little appreciation of its "sensuous delight". In the words of one of the Eben songs: "But where are the snows of bygone years?" In this singing, I'm afraid. Very chilly. No humour, either. Kozena's voice doesn't smile, she hasn't learned how to tease and intimate with sound alone. And where the subtext is meatier and more sardonic, it weighs heavily on her shoulders.

She was brave (if unwise) to choose Britten's "A Charm of Lullabies" and Shostakovich's Satires (Pictures of the Past): the stuff of nightmares both. Britten's waspish consonants proved pointless in the face of so many askew vowels, and she was way out of her depth in the savage Shostakovich settings. Malcolm Martineau, her marvellous accompanist, flung down the parodic pyrotechnics but Kozena could find only hoots of derision and a funny voice in response. A case, as yet, of a girl doing a woman's work.

Steven Guy wrote (May 5, 2003):
< Izabela Zbikowska wrote: Thank you very much for your message. I can only speak as a non musician whose ears actually feel a terrible discomfort at the sound of some of the 'original' orchestras. I don't know what it is and I can't help it. >
Perhaps you should listen to more? What about the Manze / Podger / Academy of Ancient Music recording of Bach's violin concerti? I can't imagine anyone not being charmed by this delightful recording.

< I should also add that I won't try to help it for I heard enough of HIP performances of various kind to know that the problem is not in my ears..... >
Well, as far as Baroque music is concerned, I imagine that there is very little you can listen to - you've virtually ruled out all recordings of some composer and almost all French Baroque music. You won't find any symphony orchestras performing Buxtehude, Schelle, Rosenmüller, Lully, Cavalli, Purcell, Marais, Campra, Schütz, Schein, Scheidt, Schmelzer, Dowland, Frescobaldi, Marini or Monteverdi around these days! I doubt that many modern musicians are interested in this repertoire – I know members of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and most of them couldn't care less about this sort of repertoire.

< My belief is that performing music is as much about respecting the composer's intentions >
And these intentions include - types of voices, certain instruments and certain conventions.

< as it is about making it sound like music and not exercise. >
I am a cornetto player. For me it is all about the music and playing it in an expressive and joyful way. I try to do this on my instrument. Any musician worth their salt will endeavour to do this. I played in a group of cornett, shawm, dulcian and sackbut players in Melbourne some years ago. We rehearsed once or twice per week and we tried very hard to make our interpretations exciting and expressive. We were not doing this for some sort of 'exercise' - we were playing music we loved on our chosen instruments. The music always came first.

< I simply believe in musicianship. >
So do most players of period instruments. I have heard many indifferent performances and recordings from 'modern' symphony orchestras and most orchestras have players who are technically proficient but have little real interest or enthusiasm for the music. Being an orchestra member is, after all, just another profession.

< I even think that musicianship is more important than scholarship (although i am a scholar myself). >
Well, some music cannot be performed until the scholarship is done. This is particularly true of Baroque and Renaissance music. It is only recently that error free scores of Beethoven's symphonies have been available to modern (and period instrument) orchestras. To perform the music of Schütz, Monteverdi, Rameau, Gabrieli, Purcell, Biber or Lully one cannot simply pick up a score and start playing - this music needs some understanding of a range of conventions and styles. Thanks to HIP, we know that this is even true of Mozart, Beethoven and Berlioz. This music often hasn't been 'dealt with' for hundreds of years and it needs some effort on the part of the conductors, singers and musicians for it to live again and live with grace.

< We will never really know howthe music was performed in, say, Bach's time and it is actually irrelevant. >
Well, we do happen to know quite a lot about how this music was performed in Bach's time - a heck of a lot more than we did fifty years ago. Is it relevant? Well, you said yourself that we should 'respect the composer's intentions'. I certainly do. Does it matter if Bach suddenly introduces a viola da gamba in the death scenes in both of his major Passions? Should we ignore this and suggest that the 'cello, which has been playing the continuo line throughout the score, simply plays these solos? How can a 'cello arpeggio over six or seven strings? ('celli only have four)

Why does Bach introduce recorders at one point during the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244)? Instruments in Bach's time were associated with certain ideas and events. Recorders and viols were often associated with funeral cantatas. (see works of both Bach and Telemann)

< Authenticity lies not in instruments, not in voices but in sincerity of emotions that motivate people when they perform music. >
Well, that would mean that the Swingle Singers and Wendy Carlos perform Bach 'authentically'?

If we perform the Brandenburg Concerti on instruments that were available to, familiar with and expected by Bach and we perform this music in a way that is expressive and exciting - what shall we call such a performance?

Sure, a group of saxophones might play this musiin a sincere and expressive way too - but we can't really call such a performance 'authentic', can we?

I suppose that we could simply say that some performances are much closer to the expectations of the composer than others. HIP - Historically Informed Performances is simply a convenient way of describing performances and recordings made by musicians who play instruments from other periods of time in a style that matches what we know about the musical conventions of the time. There can never be absolute 'authenticity' and this is not the aim of musicians like me. We simply enjoy what we are doing and we want to connect with this music on a deeper level.

Anyway, modern instruments were designed to meet the changing needs of music - which usually meant bigger and louder sounds. The instruments of a modern (or C20) orchestra were designed to play Richard Strauss, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Rachmaninov - and be heard in these vast orchestrations. Sure, modern instruments also play chamber music – but they have a lot of power in reserve.

It is a sobering thought to realise that Stradivari probably wouldn't recognise his own violins these days! He certainly wouldn't recognise the sounds they make!

< I am talking here about serious music performances, not pop arrangements however sincere the motivations of such performers may be. >
Sure. But what could be more serious than taking the composer's ideas, orchestrations, freedoms and limitations in the music seriously? As a musician myself, I take the music I play very seriously.

< Everything has to be done in accordance with a set of parameters that we BELIEVE (and nothing more than that!) reflects the esthetics of the period to which the piece of music belongs. >
Well, that is what HIP endeavours to do.

< Yet our search for 'learned' authenticity >
Well, any performer who plays any serious music has do some work. What is the music saying? How is it saying it? Is there a deeper message here? How do we use the music in front of us to good effect? What sort of style should we use? Ornaments? Rhythmic subtlety? If the music has words - how do we pronounce those words? Why has the composer chosen these instruments and not others? At what pitch should the music be played? What sort of tuning system is appropriate?

All these and many other questions can be asked by a serious performer of music.

< is superficial because in our effort to find the 'authentic' sound, we forget about the music itself. >
Absolutely not! Baroque music cannot simply be performed most of the time - it is like Jazz - a straight performance is the only performance you can be sure will be wrong. You need to engage with this music and commune with it.

< There is more authenticity in one bar of Klemperer's or Furthwängler's or Jochum's performances of Bach's choral works than in hours of McCreesh's. >
Well, I won't get into the semantics of the word 'authenticity' because I think that the word is loaded. McCreesh's men and women were fabulous in the Epiphany Mass recording and dull as dishwater in the Magnificat (BWV 243) recording. I am not particularly interested in his new St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) recording - I have two already - but you should try to listen to his recordings of Händel's oratorios Solomon and Theodora and his Missa Salisburgensis and his Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli recordings – they are simply wonderful and exciting.

< It is not about McCreesh's ideas - I don't care whether he is right or wrong - it is about his total lack of humanity. >
I think that this is rather insulting to a man who has made so much marvellous music with the people in his group. What could be more 'human' than the sound of an actual congregation choir in the Epiphany Mass? Or the wonderfully sexy and flirtatious Sonata XXI con tre violini on his Music for San Rocco CD? I do not really care much for the OVPP approach - I think that it is a little too 'over sold' for my tastes, but McCreesh is one of the few people in the world making exciting recordings of certain repertoire at the moment. My hat goes off to him for that!

< I am calling McCreesh's name out of the blue, but his SMP is just the most recent example of how a 'scholarly' attitude destroys musicianship. >
Well, I have to disagree here. Paul McCreesh uses an approach to this music that I feel is debatable. But (and it's a big BUT!), he does work with very fine singers and musicians - people who play this music with great skill and care .... and expression. Just because Steven Langley Guy doesn't care for a couple of his recordings doesn't negate the great achievements of the Gabrieli Consort & Players. I am a nobody – just a simple music lover and musician, if I don't like a particular recording it hardly matters to anyone except me. Overall, I like 90% of what Paul McCreesh does with his recordings.

< There are conductors who are both scholars and artists (if you want my opinion, it is Jacobs, Harnoncourt, Herreweghe and sometimes Gardiner) and they know how to balance research and art. >
Well, all of these people have made a wonderful contribution to the art of music. I like most of what they have done. However, Jacobs sometimes does strange and wilful things with the music, Harnoncourt sometimes uses singers I don't like, Herreweghe has made a few dull recordings and Gardiner is generally good with most music - however a few of his recordings haven't 'done it' for me.

< The same applies to instrumentalists and vocalists. I am willing to forgive occassional imperfections - such as in the early HIP recordings of Bach's cantatas by Harnoncourt - where the sincerity of motivations is obvious. >
They were very nice and (mostly) stand the test of time.

< There was also a time in the HIP history when it was very easy to become a musician in an orchestra even if you were a bad instrumentalist. >
Maybe this was true years ago but not now - the standards are very high on modern recordings.

< Playing bad was 'original' in itself. >
I don't think that anyone really thought that. Maybe some amateurs took that approach?

< I don't think this is true nowadays - the competition is simply too big, but there are still scratchy and out of tune orchestras (I will try to find a few examples for you tomorrow). >
Please do. I've yet to hear a seriously out of tune period instrument orchestra.

BTW - have you heard John Eliot Gardiner's HIP Beethoven Symphonies? I'd suggest that these would seriously rival any modern instrument recordings made in the last 20 years!

< One comes to me right now: in McCreesh's SMP the solo violin in Erbarme dich is simply a disgrace! don't you agree that such an important solo and in a studio recording should be done perfectly? >
Well, I haven't heard it and since I don't have any plans to buy this recording, I probably won't be hearing it any time soon. But heck! I've heard insensitive modern instrument recordings of this music too! I heard some of the Karajan B minor Mass again recently on the radio. Yuck! It sounded like they had no idea of how to treat Bach's music at all!

< You are obviously used to and attached to the 'original' >
Let's just say that I like the instruments Bach offers in his works.

< sound and I believe it is simply a matter of personal taste. >
Well, I wouldn't want to regularly hear Bach or any other Baroque composer played on modern instruments or sung by singers who don't have an affinity or familiarity with Baroque conventions and styles. I also can't stand 'Classical' musicians playing Jazz! It sounds square!

< The very fact that Bernarda Fink, whose name was called here a few times mostly to give an example of terrible vibrato that spoils recordings, is used by such HIP condfuctors as Harnoncourt >
Well, Harnoncourt often seems to have appalling tastes when it comes to singers. Fink is an old buddy of Jacobs and Hogwood? Well, I wonder if he had much say about her inclusion on the Rinaldo recording?

< Jacobs, Hogwood or Gardiner proves again that the debate about the 'baroque' sound is open and will be open forever. >
Well, Bernarda Fink is, for me, an example of how a wide, rapid and constant vibrato is out of pin Baroque music. She uses it constantly in Rinaldo - even in the recitatives. I cannot get used to her sound. She sounds wooden and expressionless as the Christian knight Goffredo in Rinaldo.

< The only thing we have today and can rely on are our ears - if they send me signals that this is wrong, that's enough for me to turn off the CD player. <
Well, if we don't like something we should sometimes still try to listen. I certainly gave Ms Fink a chance in Rinaldo - I bought the CD! I poured myself a glass of wine and sat outside on a Summer night and listened with as much of an open mind as I could muster. Bernarda Fink was better in the past - her work in the early 1990s was good - but her vocal technique sounds lazy and automatic.

< But others may find the very performance a balm to their ears. And that's what it is all about. There is so much recorded classical music to explore that one can't afford wasting time on mediocrity. And many HIP recordings are unfortunately terribly mediocre. >
This is simply not true. I have rarely heard modern instrument recordings of Baroque music which are not mediocre. The simple fact is this - there are so many recordings of Baroque music on period instruments, some of them are bound to be less than impressive to us. Listen to William Christie and Les Arts Florissants play Rameau or Concerto Palatino & Cantus Cölln in Monteverdi or Rosenmüller or Minkowski's Musiciens du Louvre perform Rameau or Gluck or Musica Fiata performing Schütz or Schelle and so on....

Some composers have been reborn with HIP - think of all those old routine recordings of Vivaldi made by I Musici and I Solisti Veneti in the past - modern period instrument chamber orchestras have only recently demonstrated the real worth of Vivaldi's music. The music of Johann Joseph Fux - the composer Bach admired so much - is still largely unexplored, but period instrument groups are making some headway with his music. I don't see modern musicians crowding them out to be the first to record Fux's music! (that is assuming, of course, if they even know this composer exists!)

< So are for that matter many traditional recordings, don't take me wrong! But for me the label HIP will never be enough as a recommendation in itself.... >
Nor should it be. A good performance is always the best criterion for a recording. This being said, it would be a shame to miss out on the music of composers like Biber, Rameau, Lully, Monteverdi, Lassus, Gabrieli, Purcell, Charpentier, Cavalli, Frescobaldi and Marais, for instance, just because one feels that period instruments are not going to sound good in this music. Fortunately we live in an age when there are excellent and exciting recordings of the music of all these composers and more coming all the time.

Robert Sherman wrote (May 5, 2003):
< Steven Guy wrote: Anyway, modern instruments were designed to meet the changing needs of music - which usually meant bigger and louder sounds. The instruments of a modern (or C20) orchestra were designed to play Richard Strauss, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Rachmaninov - and be heard in these vast orchestrations. Sure, modern instruments also play chamber music - but they have a lot of power in reserve. >
Actually, the modern piccolo trumpet was designed primarily to play Bach, and only later did it begin to be used for other purposes.

It's also interesting that the large-bore trumpets now used for R. Strauss et. al. are significantly different, and significantly better, than those available at the time of those compositions. Fortunately, there is no movement to require players to use 1930-vintage instruments for 1930 compositions.

Peter Bright wrote (May 5, 2003):
[To Izabela Zbikowska] Are original Stradivari violins and cellos really such awful instruments? Was he really such a desperately poor builder of instruments? ;-) - no, I didn't think so... Is Bylsma's sound really like the sound of nails down a blackboard? Is Rachel Podger's sweet sound really so painful to the ears? - no, I didn't think so...

Gene Hanson wrote (May 7, 2003):
[To Steven Guy] Since I have almost 250 emails to read from yesterday and today, I don't really have time to engage in extended debate on this topic. Yes, the recorder is far better than a modern flute in baroque music, and a harpsichord is preferable to a piano in Bach's chamber music and equally as enjoyable (IMO) in keyboard concertos and other keyboard works (e.g. the WTC). However, I do not think one is morally derelict in preferring modern instrument performances of many types of music. For instance, give me a modern instrument performance of Haydn's symphonies any day over performances such as Brüggen's of the Sturm und Drang symphonies, which in places are as irritating to me as nails on a chalk board. There are HIP performances I admire, E.g., Malcom Bisson on the fortepiano playing Mozart piano concertos, or Roy Goodman and the Hanover Band performing Schumann's symphonies, or Charles Mackerras performing Brahms' symphonies (marvelously revealing performances though not my favorite interpretations), etc. But on the whole, I would take a modern instrument performance (with properly balanced instruments) that properly interprets a composer's music over a mediocre HIP performance any day, and even over an equally fine performance interpretively, depending on the instruments being used. I can't imagine that Bach would be at all unhappy to hear Isaac Stern play his double violin concerto. A proper respect for historical performance is all well and good, but do we really want to see boys paying women's roles in Shakespeare's plays just because they did in Shakespeare's time?

Gene Hanson wrote (May 7, 2003):
< Johan van Veen wrote: Would that make your messages more convincing? ;) >
Not necessarily, but I liked the turn of phrase.


Kozena

Matthew Westphal wrote (May 5, 2003):
Thanks for laying out the objections to Kozena and to Peter for posting the two reviews. I have noticed that, in the UK press, she seems to get better reviews for recordings than for live performances. (I remember that the reviews for McCreesh's live SMP performances prior to the recording sessions said that Susan Bickley in her one aria was much more expressive than Kozena; in the reviews of the recordings, it has generally been the reverse.)

It sounds to me like Kozena may have a stage fright problem. (Just speculation, of course.)

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 5, 2003):
[To Matthew Westphal & Peter Bright] The impressions of the two reviewers (and some other ones too) from Kozena's Wigmore Hall recital (and some other concerts) could be actually written by myself because those are exactly my problems with most of MK's performances. But the problems are not only visual. She is generally a bland singer who has problems with vocal characterisations and they are pretty clear also on her recordings. She probably knows that - that's at least how I understand her histerical attempts at bringing `drama' to the pieces she sings. She behaves like a person who was told that she is boring and wants to prove that it is not true. She just tries too hard and it is so obvious that it actually destroys the whole pleasure of listening to her voice, I am speaking for myslef of course. I got every her recording (I buy most vocal releases anyway) and I really tried very hard to get to appreciate her but I can't!

It has nothing to do with taste - there is too much fautly singing that has nothing to do with true vocal art that I simply can't take it anymore. Still, I love the voice....It is ravishingly beautiful when she sings gently and that's probably what makes her a good Bach performer. There is some naivete and simplicity in her voice, that's what gripped me when I heard her first in short solos in Minkowski's Rameau (Dardanus) and Gluck. (Armide) It was a dreamy, lovely singing. The same is with Bach if you don't pay attention to the words (and how many people really do nowadays?) - I can well understand why people think she is THE Bach voice. But you can't built a career on singing nymphs, shepherdesses and Bach exclusively and MK is a very ambitious girl, tso it was obvious that she will start expanding her epertoire. Nothing surprising in that, though, as Bartoli showed , you can limit ourself to the repertoire that fits you best and still sell records like nobody before (well, Bartoli is a special case). Kozena is a victim of the current fashion of recording everything at an early age to fulfill your contractual obligations before you turn 30. Age is what matters now more than maturity, which is probably one of the most important things in performing classical music. Many singers refuse to sign exclusive contracts because they know what that means - it limits your freedom as an artist. As I said, it is hard to blame MK for taking up this opportunity - I am sure we wouldn't even know her name today if she wasn't heavily promoted by DG, she is simply one of those singers who need publicity to exist. All what she did so far only proves that point. And, as i said before, she had so much time to grow up!

Kozena and stage fright? sorry, but i don't think you take this argument seriously.

But I agree that she can be touching, particularly in Bach, yet to me she remains simply a `voice' who cannot articulate most of the delights that music brings.

Well, I think I wasted enough of my and others time on the "MK Case" and I don't have much more to add. Still, it was a pleasure to discuss this problem - I think it is important to discuss such issues because it actually teaches us how to judge performances. I am not saying that my opinion about MK will change your approach to her singing, but I think it is important to understand certain technicalities involved in singing to be able to judge a singer properly. Even if many of you don't understand German or Italian or Latin (or Czech), it is the singer's duty to be as faithful to the text as possible. Interpretation comes later, only after you fully understand the text. It usually takes a lot of time but record companies don't have time nowadays because they have to make money. it's that simple and that sad.....

Matthew Westphal wrote (May 6, 2003):
Izabela Zbikowska says: >>> > It has nothing to do with taste - there is too much faulty singing that has nothing to do with true vocal art that I simply can't take it anymore. <<<
Ah, but it has everything to do with taste. What is "faulty singing"? What is "true vocal art"? One's answers to those questions are based on one's own tastes and preferences.

>>> Kozena and stage fright? sorry, but i don't think you take this argument seriously. <<<
Well, I certainly understand that you care far less for her artistry than I do (and I'm by no means an unconditional fan of Kozena).

But when I read descriptions of a singer who moves awkwardly on stage, whose face and body language on video seem contrary to the text she's singing, but whose recordings are widely (though not universally) praised, a singer who received much better reviews for her recording of a particular work (the SMP) than for her live performances of the same work with the same colleagues at around the same time ... well, stage fright sure seems like a potentially plausible explanation.

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 6, 2003):
[To Matthew Westphal] Then how do you understand Kozena's confessions made on various occassions that she loves recitals (and she never fails to emphasize that she is different in this respect from most of her colleagues who don't really like recitals because they feel 'naked' in front of the audience')?

My explanation of MK's strange stage behaviour is simple: the image created in publicity pictures released by DG is so different from the real Kozena that it is often hard to believe that it is the same person. This can create a discomfort and that's how I would explain her strange facial grimaces on the Bach DVD - she takes up every occassion to pull on her 'picture' face, the one that she thinks is most interesting. Not surprisingly, most of those 'frozen' expressions on that DVD are the ones that are known from her publicity shots. She just behaves like a model during that performance.

I also offered you another explanation of the fact that "her face and body language on video seem contrary to the text she's singing" - she simply doesn't care for the text because she doesn't understand it. It is plain to me in most of her recordings - she always has a better idea how to sing a text but she rarely proves that she understands it in the first place. By 'understand" I don't mean read a translation or make one for yourslef (as she claims she does), but understand the message of the text. it is beyond her apparently. I could give you a terribly long and boring list of her mistakes of this kind, but I really don't feel like listening to her recordings. The most absurd cases are in her Händel cantatas disc, particularly in recitativi. They really made me laugh out loud and it was still at the time when I thought she was 'the real thing".

Reviews in professional musical press are of no importance to me - as you yoursef must be well aware, they are often written to help boost a new career. Most of reviews of MK's recordings that I read were polite, including Gramophone's opinion on her G. Award winning Love Songs - indeed, the strangest eulogy I've ever read (G. Award Issue 2001). If you want to treat them seriously, without relying on your own ears, go ahead.

Not everything in singing is a matter of taste. Much of it is about rules that shouldn't be violated. One of them is ability to deliever a text faithfully and grippingly. Kozena has a big problem with this and that makes her in my eyes (or ears) a boring performer. But that probably is a matter of my (poor?) taste....

Jack Botelho wrote (May 6, 2003):
[To Izabela Zbikowska] I'm one of those people that have read some very 'excited' references to Kozena without having heard any of her work on record. When I did finally listen to some by this artist what struck me what not her singing, but the photo of her, and she is gorgeous in one photo (Händel early Italian sacred pieces/Minkowski/Archiv) and absolutely seductive/sophisticated beyond belief in another (Meryl Streep times 10). (Below) criticism of Kozena's performance is beyond my scope of expertise, but I'm taking Izabela Zbikowska's word for it! This entire thing seems so plausible with regard to marketing.

Barry Murray wrote (May 7, 2003):
[To Jack Botelho] Like you, I think much of this is beyond my expertise too.My advice: don't take anyone's word for anything in music. If you listen to Kozena's work yourself, and if you like it, then why not enjoy it. My introduction to Kozena was the Op 111 recording of Vivaldi's Juditha Triumphans. She sounded pretty good to my admittedly untrained ear. I was perhaps helped by a complete lack of comprehension of Latin. What I have written is in no way a criticism of Izabela Zbikowska's thoughtful posts. I will listen to the Minkowski Händel Cantatas with a whole new perspective.

Peter Bright wrote (May 6, 2003):
[To Barry Murray] But please also remember that there are many respected professional music editors and reviewers out there who think the world of our Magadalena (as well as those who don't...). I included a couple of negative reviews of a Wigmore Hall recital recently but I could easily have selected some glowing reports too. However, as (I think) Izabela Zbikowska mentioned - it is her recordings that really seem to be stealing the limelight. And I notice that Simon Rattle has got her in his sights now. Gardiner, Rattle, Harnoncourt, Minkowski and so on - they all want to work with her - bandwagon, testosterone or because of her genuine talent. I vouch for all of these but don't skimp on the latter - I really love a lot of her recordings.

Matthew Westphal wrote (May 7, 2003):
Taste

Izabela Zbikowska says: >>> Not everything in singing is a matter of taste. Much of it is about rules that shouldn't be violated. One of them is ability to deliever a text faithfully and grippingly. <<<
Yes, but what constitutes "faithfully" or "grippingly"? That's a completely subjective matter, of course: one man's "faithfully" is another man's "ploddingly and literally"; one woman's "grippingly" is another woman's "melodramatically". Or what have you ...
>>> Kozena has a big problem with this and that makes her in my eyes (or ears) a boring performer. But that probably is a matter of my (poor?) taste. <<<
Of course it's a matter of taste -- Izabela Zbikowska implicitly acknowledges that when she says "in my eyes (or ears)."

Poor taste? Absolutely not. My tastes in Bach performance are different from Izabela Zbikowska's, but nobody's taste is poor just because mine doesn't coincide with it.

My objection is to treating one's own preferences as if they were objective fact.

PS -- By the way I'm not defending Kozena as such; I certainly don't think she is The Next Great Vocal Artist Of Our Time, whatever her virtues. I find the way she handled her texts in McCreesh's SMP (BWV 244) very gripping, but her treatment of words hasn't made any particular impression on me in any of the other recordings of hers I've heard.


Magalena Kozena, McCreesh's SMP and Kuijken

Paul Dirmeikis wrote (May 7, 2003):
Poor Miss Kozena... I don't understand why she is the aim of so many posts. Her German pronunciation ? As far as goes my knowledge of German language, she's much better than Maria Callas, Jessye Norman, Anne Sofie von Otter, Angela Gheorghiu or Dawn Upshaw (non exhaustive list of course) were/are in French ! And nevertheless, it doesn't prevent anyone from appreciating their great talent while singing Bizet, Debussy or Messiaen, does it ?

DGG takes advantage of her beautiful face ? Everyone knows that good-looking singers or instrumentalists are much more pushed by labels than those who have a "common" face. That's business and has nothing to do with art, it's unfortunate, I agree, but can one blame Miss Kozena for this ?

Suppositions I read in recent posts, as "Does she understand what she sings ?
", seem quite gratuitously stingy and almost slanderous. To my mind, a respectful attitude for all artists, even if one doesn't appreciate them (because of musical reasons, preferably), should be a basis for all our critiscisms, and would give garantees for their credibility.

Coming back to McCreesh's SMP: does someone know why Paul McCreesh chose women for the alto parts ? He gave explanations for not using boys for the soprano parts, but not a word for why using women rather than countertenors. Yet, in his previous Bach recordings (Epiphany Mass, Easter Oratorio and Magnificat), he always used countertenors, and even for the SMP performed during the "Folles journées de Nantes" in 2000, countertenor Robin Blaze sang the alto part. I wonder why he decided to have two women for the DGG recording ? I'd wish to know whether the reasons were aesthic, or pragmatic, or whatever...

Connected to this, I would be very interested reading what were Paul McCreesh's SMP post-recording impressions. How far goes his satisfaction ? What could be improved, to his mind ? With what he is particularly satisfied ? I remember reading a post where someone said he had the opportunity to interview Paul McCreesh. Would it be possible that this member of the list could contact him again, and submit a kind of questionnaire that some of us would write in common ? We rarely have the opportunity to know about the artists' impressions after their work, apart from some quite conventional and superficial interviews in musical magazines.

Last thing : I recently read a review about the Paul McCreesh SMP in the French musical magazine "Diapason" (rather positive review, by the way), and it ended by this information : Sigiswald Kuijken would be preparing a live OVPP recording of the SMP ! Does someone know more about this ? Singers ? Label ? Recording dates ?

Laurent Planchon wrote (May 7, 2003):
< Paul Dirmeikis wrote: As far as goes my knowledge of German language, she's much better than Maria Callas, Jessye Norman, Anne Sofie von Otter, Angela Gheorghiu or Dawn Upshaw (non exhaustive list of course) were/are in French ! >
Anne Sofie Von Otter is actually rather good in French. Listen to her amazing "Nuits d'ete" for instance.

Donald Satz wrote (May 7, 2003):
[To Paul Dirmeikis] Magalena Kozena's enticing appearance seems to make some folks jealous. I agree that the bashing has been very unbecoming.

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 7, 2003):
[To Donald Satz] I am sure it is directed to me since I am a girl, but how will you explain that I did like her (I have a review at amazon.com written in 2000 that actually proves it - Minkowsk's DIXIT DOMINUS, if you care) and how will you explain that I DO like many gorgeously looking singers? How will you explain that most of the reviewers who do write unfavorable reviews of MK's performances are MEN? Please, let's maintain some level of rationality here, ok?

Donald Satz wrote (May 8, 2003):
[To Izabela Zbikowska] It wasn't directed at any one person or gender. This singer has been bashed for days now, and I find it ridiculous given that she isn't a significant person in our lives. Bashing of this intensity and duration has been done before with the likes of Tureck, Pogorelich, and Gould; each time, it was overcooked and overlong.

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 8, 2003):
[To Donald Satz] So what does jealousy have to do with this? You referred to her looks as the source of jealousy and who else could possibly be jealous if not a girl?

Of course this chat was much too long although my intention was to show certain trends in the industry and not focus on Kozena herself. well, anyway, I hope it is over now.


Kozena

Steven Guy wrote (May 7, 2003):
I rather liked Kozena in recordings of Rameau, Charpentier and other French Baroque repertoire. Alas, she doesn't seem to be singing so much of this repertoire now. Check her out in Minkowski's recording of Dardanus by Jean-Philippe Rameau.


Kozena’s Look

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 7, 2003):
After so lengthy discussion of La Kozena, isn't it the time to take a look at some of her photos?
Her short biography, list of her Bach's recordings and many photos can be found at the pages:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Kozena-Magdalena.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Kozena-Magdalena-2.htm


Kozena - final word from the Jealous Zbiczek

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 7, 2003):
Dear ALL who still have the patience for this next - AND LAST!!!! - issue of Kozenology.

I don't know why she became a focus of so many posts although I agree that I probably provoked them, quite unintentionally I must say.

Paul, you are terribly wrong: business UNFORTUNATELY has a lot to do with art and that's the greatest problem of today's classical music industry. You call this situation "unfortunate" yourself and that's why I can't understand your indulgence as to the performing standards when you say: "To my mind, a respectful attitude for all artists, even if one doesn't appreciate them because of musical reasons, preferably), should be a basis for all our criticisms, and would give guarantees for their credibility. It is terribly "politically correct" and just says nothing.

Every artist (or every human being for that matter) has his/her strengths and weaknesses. Those who are wise enough try to show as little weaknesses as possible and don't touch repertoire they don't feel comfortable in, others try everything and it could actually be OK in past decades when almost everything was recorded in many versions, but it is not acceptable today when not much is really happening in terms of new recordings. I find recitals such as Kozena's Le belle immagini (and other upcoming attractions) an absolute waste of talent and money. You may enjoy it, others may enjoy it, I even enjoyed one or two tracks - it still doesn't justify a generally low quality of this kind of releases (and I am not talking about Kozena exclusively here). This is a typical product of advertising and I am simply flabbergasted at how easy it is to sell such a thing today with proper packaging and pretend that it has some artistic value. I am sure that fans wait for every release their beloved artists, regardless the quality of singing and importance of the recorded material. The more general appeal the new `star' has, the happier the record company - they simply sell more records. Quality doesn' t matter. Quality is actually a great obstacle in business today because it is very expensive. No record company can afford that nowadays and that's why they use pop-music strategies to promote their new stars. So, they put a lot of money into promotion and advertising, produce a record after record and wait for return of profit. If there is none or too little, good bye! here is a new 20+ years old singing sensation.

If you look at MK's recording schedule (DG's web site) you'll see that one month she is singing and recording Giulio Cesare, the next French arias of 19th (!) century, the next - Bach, the next Schostakovitch and Britten. By ANY standards it is ABSURD! I don't know of any other singer - even the over recorded Rene Fleming - who would be so `busy' and if I did care for MK as a singer I would be terribly worried. It is the most insane example of a record company using a young and inexperienced singer for a mass production of recitals and also the most insane example of a young and immature singer saying YES to this. So please, don't tell me that business has nothing to do with art and that we can't blame Kozena for making business out of her singing.

I think my problem with Kozena reflects something more important than just (probably) my taste - my general approach to classical music. I believe that classical music is about highest possible standards. Otherwise why should we bother ? It is supposed to be high not popular art. I also believe that in classical music people should be motivated by real love of music and sincerity and that's why I hate what is happening now with the classical music industry run by businessmen. Somehow Kozena became a symbol of this to me.

Matthew, you are of course right about taste - everything IS - for better or worse - a matter of taste. A performance of a piece of music in itself already reflects tastes of the musicians (and the composer to begin with). It is a terribly complicated issue and we won't solve it here. After all, there are people who think Charlotte Church is a good singer and there is certainly more of them - in numbers at least - than those who think Callas was a good singer (to give just the most extreme example of a singer who is also a popular legend ). But there are - at least in classical music - some objective
criteria which should be used in any judgment or assessment of a performance. Yet today, when everything is so "subjectivized', when everything should be `original' and `unique' and everybody deserves his/her 5 minutes of fame, these criteria matter much less than they did even a decade ago. But if everybody sung or played `his way' where would the art go? What would be the difference between us and professional singers?
We discuss here such problems as `authenticity', but to me authenticity lies exactly in keeping high standards of performing music.

Having heard a huge dose of vocal music in my life, I learned how to rely on my own judgment and I probably won't exaggerate if I say that I developed a certain objectivity in judging vocal performances, independent of my taste. IT may sound absurd to some of you, but yes, it is true.

That's what I believe happens to professional critics who spent most of their lives listening to some particular genres of music. Yet a difference between me and them is that I am not being paid for my opinions and hence - I don't have any extra-musical agendas when I write about or discuss a performance or recording. And these extra-musical agendas are what really matters here. Many of you who read musical periodicals such as Gramophone or BBC music (to list only the English language ones) noticed how opinions of critics about the same performances - vocal or instrumental - differ. That's a matter of taste - one would say. Really? In many cases, yes, but taste can't be responsible for all those differences of opinion.

Matthew, you are a critic yourself (?). Doesn't the fact that an artist was nice to you during an interview affect your judgment? Doesn't somebody's stupidity and arrogance affect your judgment? Doesn't a grudge against a teacher of an artist make you look at the artist with less sympathy? Doesn't the fact that sb looks like your first love affect your judgment? I could go on like this, only about human factors, but there are also financial factors involved here. I am just trying to say that relying on the opinion of professional critics can be dangerous. What is the alternative? Not reading reviews? No, I like reading them - for the same reason I like listening to your opinions here, because they reflect other people's points of view. And last but not least, if reviews are well written, they are simply a pleasure to read.

Thanks for your patience, attention and all your views expressed here.

Gene Hanson wrote (May 8, 2003):
< Izabela Zbikowska wrote: Paul, you are terribly wrong: business UNFORTUNATELY has a lot to do with art and that's the greatest problem of today's classical music industry. >
As can be seen from "Mozart for Mommies," "Bach for Breakfast," and such nonsense.

< The more general appeal the new `star' has, the happier the record company - they simply sell more records. Quality doesn' t matter. Quality is actually a great obstacle in business today because it is very expensive. No record company can afford that nowadays and that's why they use pop-music strategies to promote their new stars. they put a lot of money into promotion and advertising, produce a record after record and wait for return of profit. >
A shortsighted strategy, because over time, quality will continue to sell.

< After all, there are people who think Charlotte Church is a good singer and there is certainly more of them - in numbers at least - than those who think Callas was a good singer (to give just the most extreme example of a singer who is also a popular legend). >
Shocking, if true. Callas is EMI's biggest money-maker. Her records continue to sell, and as one EMI executive remarked, "She keeps the lights turned on around here."

Robert Sherman wrote (May 8, 2003):
[To Gene Hanson] Gene, are you saying Callas sells more than Church? The reverse may be shocking, but I wouldn't be surprised by it.

I wish you were right about quality continuing to sell, but I have to agree with Izabela Zbikowska. Example: The best modern-instrument Messiah recording, by far, is Westenberg. It's no longer available. But the hideous Bonynge/Sutherland is right out there on Amazon.com.

Another example: Heinz Holliger playing Marin-Marais "Folie Espagnol." Incredible oboe playing, bowls over everyone I play it for. Out of print, not available.

One thing I've learned is that when a great recording comes around, maybe wait for the price to go down, but grab it; it may be gone before you turn around.

Gene Hanson wrote (May 8, 2003):
< Robert Sherman wrote: Gene, are you saying Callas sells more than Church? The reverse may be shocking, but I wouldn't be surprised by it. >
I don't know how Charlotte Church is selling now as compared to Callas, but over time, Callas has been EMI's biggest money maker. Actually, I haven't heard Church, except in a few clips (which didn't impress me all that much). The marketing turns me off.

< I wish you were right about quality continuing to sell, but I have to agree with Zbiczek. Example: The best modern-instrument Messiah recording, by far, is Westenberg. It's no longer available. But the hideous Bonynge/Sutherland is right out there on Amazon.com. >
I haven't heard either of them. I have McCreesh and Solti, neither of which I ever get to listen to. Too much teenage competition (except from my older daughter, but she prefers Charlie Brown's Christmas, which also like). But as for quality selling, we still see, e.g., Richter, Kempff, and artists of their caliber in the catalogue. Will we continue to see the popular artists of today?

< Another example: Heinz Holliger playing Marin-Ma"Folie Espagnol." Incredible oboe playing, bowls over everyone I play it for. Out of print, not available. >
Anyone who would remove a Heinz Holliger recording from the catalogue should be shot. Unfortunately, there do seem to be a breed of executives in the recording industry today who appear to be trolls whose souls have been sucked out by the kiss of a dementor.

< One thing I've learned is that when a great recording comes around, maybe wait for the price to go down, but grab it; it may be gone before you turn around. >
If your wife will let you. <g>

Continue of this part of the discusssion, see: Art vs. Business


Speaking of Kozena…

William D. Kasimer wrote (May 8, 2003):
If anyone else is interested in obtaining a copy of her Bach CD (the more complete version with the three additional tracks, it's here::
http://www.musicabona.com/catalog1/457060-2.html

Price is quite reasonable (US$14, including shipping). I have no connecting to this entity, but my copy of the CD is on its way....


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