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Vibrato - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Vibrato-less recordings

Viken A. Djerdjian wrote (July 11, 2001):
Hi, I'm new to the group and I was just curious...

Just to clarify myself: There's nothing I love more than Bach. My friends make fun of me because they think I obsess about it.

That being said, I just absolutely hate vibrato (vocal and instrumental). Boy, I wish I could describe how much I hate it. I think it take so much away from the music. I can't listen to opera because of it. I can't listen to Bach masses and cantatas because of it. I very meticulously pick recordings that don't have it and I end up owning multiple copies of things which I end up never listening to because of it.

My question is, am I alone?

I can find instrumental stuff without vibrate (albeit with difficulty). Do vocal works without vibrato exist?

Thanks a lot and I hope this email isn't out of line,

Piotr Jaworski wrote (July 11, 2001):
[To Viken A. Djerdjian] Not to be able to listen to Bach vocal works as Masses, Passions or Cantatas because of VIBRATO???

Leave the VIBRATO alone - you try to say that you've never found Bach vocal work recording, you were not able to listen without that irritation and hatred?!

Yes, IMHO, with that feeling you're probably alone here.

William D. Kasimer wrote (July 11, 2001):
Viken A. Djerdjian wrote:
< I can't listen to Bach masses and cantatas because of it. I very meticulously pick recordings that don't have it >
Just so I know that we're talking about the same thing here, would you please say which Bach singers are pleasing to you? Because I've got to admit that I don't think that I've ever heard an adult singer with no vibrato sing Bach (I've heard some in earlier music).

< My question is, am I alone? >
Probably not. I think that nearly people object to excessive vibrato, many object to a wide or slow vibrato (I'm an opera fan, but I certainly tend to prefer singers with a quicker and/or narrower amplitude vibrato, assuming that they're still able to sing in tune). And certainly many (particularly on this and on early music forums) prefer a minimum of vibrato. You're just a bit more extreme, I suspect...

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 11, 2001):
[To Piotr Jaworski] Hey, hey....

What's this jumping on somebody? Especially somebody new to the list?

I agree with Viken, vibrato is easily overused in Bach. It clogs up the musical lines and thickens the texture, especially in choral works and in modern string orchestras. I like vibrato when it's used as an ornament to enliven a solo line, but it drives me crazy when it's constant (the way modern opera singers, flautists, and string players often do as if that's the only way to produce tone).

Treatises of violin playing, along with recordings from early in the 20th century, show that it was generally still considered more an ornament than a norm...until Kreisler and Heifetz and Casals.

In grad school I was in a choir where the conductor's main requirement of membership was an ability to sing in tune without vibrato. The reasons are similar: if a group of singers use a variety of vibratos, it obscures the musical texture. The only way really to get it constant is to have it be zero. That's not to everybody's taste, but I like it that way. Zero as a default, then bring it in tastefully only if it is really needed.

Viken, your position reminds me of a friend of mine from high school and college. He too was very careful about avoiding recordings that are full of vibrato (and I think he still is). You're not alone.

Piotr Jaworski wrote (July 11, 2001):
Brad Lehman wrote:
< Hey, hey.... What's this jumping on somebody? Especially somebody new to the list? >
JUMPING ON???

Well, if you say so...; if - IMO - my absolutely harmless comment was understood that way - I owe you both my apologies. That was not my intention. My intention was rather to 'jump on' the certain statement like 'I hate', 'I can't listen' etc. And I did it. Viken, you really can't name even the few recordings of vocal works that
you like?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 11, 2001):
Viken A. Djerdjian wrote:
< My question is, am I alone? I can find instrumental stuff without vibrate (albeit with difficulty). Do vocal works without vibrato exist? Thanks a lot and I hope this email isn't out of line, >
Not at all. (out of line, nor are you alone). I don't like it, but I wouldn't say I hate it that much. Well used vibrato can be quite good - I am thinking of Robert Cohen's cello suites, that I recently reviewed. He is very restrained in his vibrato, but when he uses it he does so like an ornament.

Viken A. Djerdjian wrote (July 11, 2001):
Thanks for all the comments. I took it as a harmless comment! No need to apologize. I've always liked Bach vocal works, I just never liked any recordings of it...

For example, I have Mass in B Minor (BWV 232), Hänssler edition, Hilmuth Rilling. I really like the first track, Kyrie eleison, it reminds me of maybe the way people sing Palestrina (little vibrato, haunting). The second track, Christe eleison, however has a lot of (wide) vibrato (and two singers that are really not in sync with each other). I'm sure they meant that one doesn't do vibrato while the other does for contrast or something. It's just so distracting, I can't ignore the vibrato and listen to the music. Actually I just played it now and I had to shut it off, I can't even tell what notes she was shooting for.

So you see I physically can't "Leave the VIBRATO alone".

I hope this clarifies my point. Some recordings (instrumental) use vibrato as an ornament and they use narrow vibrato. These don't bother me as much, but I still get distracted.

I'm so grateful they can't do vibrato on an organ...

Thanks again for the responses,

Anne Smith wrote (July 11, 2001):
Viken A. Djerdjian wrote:
< That being said, I just absolutely hate vibrato (vocal and instrumental). My question is, am I alone? >
You are not alone. You are most likely reacting to excessive vibrato. Natural vibrato is pleasant and unobtrusive.

I used to be a choir director. There always seemed to be one person in the choir who worked at vibrato. This person always stood out like a sore thumb and ruined the blending of the other voices. This is why I can't stand vibrato.

The natural vibrato that tasteful performers have is not what I mean.

Per Backstrom wrote (July 11, 2001):
[To Anne Smith] I think we should try to clarify what we mean by vibrato. I guess most of hate vibrato ass big as to border to wobbling, the vibrato that make a chorister's voice stand out. A choir I used to sing in could not use a track from a recording session because an alto's voice was so obtrusive. Like Anne I like a small, fast vibrato, but as I read it Viken does not even want that.

I bought the Suzuki cantata CD with my favourite Miah Persson as soprano soloist. I was a little disappointed, especially at first hearing, because her voice was very straight and did not bloom. At a lunch meeting with her I asked about this, and she replied that this was how Suzuki wanted it. Gardiner OTOH accept more vibrato.

So maybe Viken should try recordings conducted by Suzuki? Apart from the cantata series there is also a nice CD with Magnificats by Bach, Zelenka and Kuhnau. BTW does this qualify as 1 in the recent poll?

Jim Morrison wrote (July 11, 2001):
Seems to me we're talking about at least two separate issues here.

Some people are talking about recordings with "excessive vibrato" while a few others are talking about recordings lacking vibrato, or even a quaking of a musical notes, entirely.

I must say, anyone who can't tolerate any vibrato at all in their vocal music, probably doesn't like any vocal, and I begin to wonder if vibrato is really the issue hear or perhaps its more like music for voice is the problem.

Is it even physically possible to sing with a perfectly steady pitch? I have no idea, though I doubt it's true.

I'm curious to know if anyone out there has heard truly vibratoless vocal music (and if they like it.)

Is it just vocal vibrato that bothers Viken, or vibrato on any instrum? You mentioned how you liked the fact that the organ lacks vibrato. How you must hate the clavichord. :) Any string or wind instruments that you can tolerate? Does any unsteadiness of pitch frustrate you? How do you like the synthesizer for Bach's music?

Anyone have any favourite recordings that have a very low degree of vibrato? I haven't seen any recommendations come by for recordings of Bach's vocal music with extremly low levels of vibrato. Rifkin? Parrott? How about for orchestral strings? Hogwood? Violin or cello suites?

I think the pickings are going to be slim. Too many musicians like to make vibrato, and too many people like to hear it, I imagine, for there to be a large number out there.

Jim (who doesn't really keep mental track of the vibrato levels of his recordings)

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 11, 2001):
Viken A. Djerdjian wrote:
< I'm so grateful they can't do vibrato on an organ... >
Actually...effects similar to vibrato can be done on pipe organ in several different ways. Check out this posting from the archives:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/1329

And that's not to mention electronic organs that have a "Leslie" effect: rotate the speaker to make the sound more complex. Yipes.
http://www.digitalprosound.com/2001/04_apr/tutorials/earlofwhirl.htm
http://blues.about.com/library/weekly/aa092800b.htm?once=true&

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 11, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] My friend from high school who hated vibrato loved everything he could get hold of that had Emma Kirkby and David Thomas in it.

Greta de Reyghere, Agnes Mellon, Maria Cristina Kiehr, Montserrat Figueras, Custer LaRue, Julianne Baird, Evelyn Tubb, Emily van Evera, Chanticleer, and the Hilliard Ensemble can all do very well without vibrato when they choose to. So can Linda Ronstadt and Barbra Streisand.

Montserrat Figueras could sing the telephone directory for all I care, it would be lovely. She has just enough of a tasteful quiver (when she chooses to) to temper her laser. Any music that she and her husband Jordi Savall do (together or separately), ...well, you need it.

Jim Morrison wrote (July 11, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thanks Brad,

concerning Julianne Baird, who I love, here's a passage from an interview at:
http://www.princeton.edu/~stmoore/bairdfeature.html

"Baird's soprano is an instantly recognizable instrument. The immediate impression is one of little or no vibrato, but that's not quite on the mark. She sings with a narrow and rather fast vibrato which doesn't blur the edges of the pitch. Likewise it would be inaccurate to group her with the sopranos working in early music who have high, predominantly lyric voices. Baird's voice seems most at home in a range closer to that of the mezzo-soprano, but without the weight usually associated with that voice. One of the joys of her singing is the fluidity and accuracy she brings to the florid divisions of the early seventeenth century ( using a technique of throat articulation, or in Italian, gorgheggiare. "

I didn't understand some of that, lacking musical training, but what I do know is that I love the way she sings!

Seems like most of your list of singers who use lesser amounts of vibrato are women? Is such a style of singing unusual for men?

I wonder if people who have an aversion to vibrato are also disturbed by trills and tremolos.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 11, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] Gorgheggiare. Nice word.

Chanticleer and the Hilliard Ensemble aren't enough men for the list? :) Let's add Guy de Mey. Check out also the soloists on all your Arvo Part discs. You might also enjoy hearing Owain Phyfe for something completely different.

And lest we forget: Sylvia McNair singing Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen with Previn at the piano, singing with hardly any vibrato. That Kern CD is one. of. the. best. discs. ever. made. of. anything. Oh. my. goodness. Words. fail....

Seriously, there are many others here who know a lot more about the singers than I do, and who probably have a list of two dozen male singers with little vibrato, so I'll shut up.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 11, 2001):
Jim Morrison asked:
< Is it even physically possible to sing with a perfectly steady pitch? I have no idea, though I doubt it's true. >
Yes it is, and good vocalists will surprise you, when they show you that they can do it at will. The fact is that they do not want to, because it tends to sound 'dead,' 'lifeless,' and can create an unpleasant 'howling' sound as the volume is increased. If you listen to some of the Bach cantatas in the more recently recorded ones, you will notice that many singers in the arias (male and female) will begin vibrato-less, and as the volume increases, the voice begins to vibrato gradually as the width of the vibrato also increases. This can be a very pleasant effect, and who knows, perhaps it was done this way in Bach's day.

Recently I had heard a rebroadcast of a BBC recording made in the early 1990's by Ann Murray, whom I have heard on the Rilling Bach cantata series. She was performing Schubert songs in the first half of her recital. It was truly awful because of her constant wide vibrato. The thought crossed my mind, "Now she is definitely past her prime and has lost the ability to control her voice." Surprise! In the second half of the recital she sang some contemporary music, without any vibrato for the most part! Of course, much of this was for special effect and sung sotto voce, but she 'nailed' each note and held it exactly where it was supposed to be. Conclusion: Never write off a singer because of his/her vibrato. Most good voices can control it at will, but when they can not 'turn it off,' that is when a singer can become a problem for the listener. Many famous singers feel obligated for whatever reason (there are many) to continue beyond the time when they should have given their farewell recital/performance. The good ones recognize well in advance of this time, when the time has come for them to stop singing. A casual listener may not even notice where the problem areas really are, but a knowlegeable listener will.

Another factor alluded to in this discussion is the speed (fast or slow) as well as the pitch range above and below the actual note of a vibrato. Others on this list have indicated that they like the faster vibrato over a slower one. This may all be a matter of taste for each individual. I personally find the fast vibratos just as disturbing as the ones that are too slow. As a recent example, I have been listening to recordings by Matthias Goerne, whom I enjoyed in his earlier Schubert recitals, but the recent spate of Bach recordings (I own the SMP (BWV 244) and the bass solo cantatas (1999)) have left me wondering whether this voice is suitable for Bach. Also, it is a rare voice indeed that can sing Wagner (as Goerne has and will continue to do so) and not 'suffer' through the overproduction of voice that Wagner demands. Listen to BWV 56 and BWV 82 on his recording (Decca 289 466 570-2), and you will hear the 'automatic weapon-like' sound of a fast vibrato. This is a vibrato that becomes more unpleasant, the more he has to produce volume. The studio recordings he did of Lieder were wonderful, but here, in the bass cantatas, he was forced to give more voice because he was singing in a church. Now the otherwise pleasant aspect of his personal voice becomes unpleasant. One night I listened to this recording with the volume turned up in a different room. I could not believe how bad it sounded. (I suppose I should have tried headphones for comparison - I believe that would have improved it somewhat.) Then, under the same concitions, I played the same by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in order to confirm that I was not imagining things here.
And I was not. It is the fast tak-tak-tak-tak etc. of Goerne's vibrato which causes the problem. It is slightly improved if you sit directly before the speakers in an ideal position, but it should not have to be that way. My own thought is that Goerne is on his way out as a Bach singer as long as he continues to sing Wagner operas and the like. His voice does not seem to have the stamina to survive a career of singing with large orchestras and then 'stepping down' to a Bach cantata or Passion, which has very different requirements. In defense of Goerne in the SMP, I have heard way too many performances that do not even come up to his level on that recording.

Charles Francis wrote (July 11, 2001):
Jim Morrison wrote:
< Anyone have any favourite recordings that have a very low degree of vibrato? I haven't seen any recommendations come by for recordings of Bach's vocal music with extremly low levels of vibrato. Rifkin? Parrott? >
Yes, Yes, the Rifkin and Parrott One Voice Per Part recordings seem to more or less avoid vibrato.

Jim Morrison wrote (July 12, 2001):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Chanticleer and the Hilliard Ensemble aren't enough men for the list? :) >
Combined they make probably more men than the number of women you mentioned. It's just that the women were soloists, while the men are in groups. Where are the solo recordings of men using little vibrato. That was the spirit of my question. I know little about vocal music, but I'm starting to get the feeling that male vocal groups may have a special segment in the recording instrument for vibrato-less records.

< Check out also the soloists on all your Arvo Part discs. >
I will. I only own a couple of his vocal works, and another couple of his instrumental sets. That Saint John Passion (BWV 245) I mentioned I only bought last week and haven't had a chance to listen to more than, oh, 20 minutes of it. Very powerful beginning. A stern work, it seems like.

Jim (who knows very little about vocal music, though is having a good time learning more)

Jim Morrison wrote (July 12, 2001):
Switched discs to the Hilliard version of Part's Saint John Passion (ECM New Series 1370) and I hear vocal quaking all over the place. If this isn't vibrato, then just what the heck is it?

Jim (who know that it's been brought to his attention, hears vibrato all the time, esp in passages like Thomas mentioned, as the volume goes up, a gentle vibrato goes with it, an effect I do like a lot.)

Jim Morrison wrote (July 12, 2001):
Thanks for all the comments on vibrato. More on them later, just thought I'd add that I'm listening to Emma Kirkby with the Parley of Instruments perform on "Sacred Music of Monteverdi" Hyperion CDA 66021 and is it positively full of vibrato-like effects. If she is a performer who uses little vibrato, then this must be an atypical recording. David Thomas is on it as well, with a performence of lots of strange vocal effects on song "Nisi Dominus aedificaverit domum." Definetly not a "straightforward/calm" song.

By the way, I'm thoroughly enjoying the disc and think both have voices worth hearing.

Per Backstrom wrote (July 12, 2001):
[To Thomas Braatz, regarding Ann Murray] This may be off topic but maybe of some interest anyhow.

I heard Ann Murray last month as Giulio Cesare in Barcelona. During much of the performance I had the same objections as when I heard her several years ago as Ariodante at ENO. She is good in other ways so she definitely did not ruin it for me.

In the beginning of the third act she has a soft aria. Here she was wonderful and with great control.

Johan van Veen wrote (July 12, 2001):
[To Thomas Braatz, regarding Matthias Goerne] Is this recording by Goerne with Roger Norrington? I heard that one, and I thought it was pretty awful.

You are right that singing Bach and Wagner causes problems. I have heard quite a number of singers who were quite good in Baroque music, but when their career developed they started to sing more 19th century music, in particular opera, and more and more their singing became "traditional". I remember John Mark Ainsley in his early years with some wonderful recordings of 17th century music. But right now he has that vibrato which I don't like. It isn't "big" like some opera voices we all know, but still too much for pre-romantic music, IMO.

There are exceptions, of course. I always liked the Danish bass Ulrik Cold, who is also singing Wagner and other 19th century stuff, but he is great in the part of Jesus in Herreweghe's first recording of Bach's SMP (BWV 244), and he did a very good job as well in Corboz' recording of Cavalli's opera Ercole amante and in Bergman's movie-version of Mozart's Zauberflöte. So it is possible to do both, but perhaps not for everyone. In general I think specialising in a certain period or style is the best thing to do, but I suppose singers don't make enough money by singing only "early music".

Jim Morrison wrote (July 12, 2001):
Hope I'm not vibratoing a dead horse, but here's a little webpage I just found on vibrato in Baroque vocal music: http://ladyviola1593.tripod.com/musichistory/

Viken A. Djerdjian wrote (July 16, 2001):
Well I just want to say thanks. You all have given me enough references to last me a while.

I've noticed upon much more careful listening that a lot recordings I own (and like) do have mild vibrato but as long as it doesn't call attention to itself, I can live with it. They are mostly instrumental (The vibrato-organ email was just scary though!).

Again thanks to all that responded on and off list,

ps. I just purchased Hänssler edition, Sonatas for viola da gamba, performed by Hille Perl and Michael Beringer and I couldn't hear any vibrato and it sounds great!

 

On vibrato in orchestras

Kirk McElhearn wrote (February 16, 2003):
February 16, 2003 (New York Times)
Time to Rid Orchestras of the Shakes
By ROGER NORRINGTON

ARE there any frontiers left for what used to be called the early-music movement? As it swept the field in Monteverdi, Bach and the like in the 1960's and 70's, the movement became closely identified with period instruments. In recent decades, period bands, playing in what is now called historically informed style, have been expanding their terrain to include Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn and even later composers.

But the performance of early music has always been more about how you approach and play the music than about what you play it on, and historically informed practice has long since progressed into the mainstream. Many of the key elements that once embarrassed "modern" performers < tempo, orchestral seating, bow speed, articulation < are now almost taken for granted. It is rare to come across a really slow andante movement in a Mozart symphony. The great remaining question is the sound orchestras made in the Romantic era.

As audiences, we have already got used to the idea that the music of Monteverdi or Bach is normally played and sung with pure tone, without the use of steady vibrato, a minute fluctuation of pitch intended to make the sound more intense. With the aid of period orchestras we are gradually accustoming ourselves to the same sound for Haydn and Mozart < even, on occasion, for Beethoven. But surely here, on the threshold of the Romantic era, pure tone must be questionable. Wouldn't orchestras from at least Berlioz's time on have used vibrato like that used today?

Not at all. Far from being a characteristic of the 1830's, vibrato did not become common in European or American orchestras until the 1930's.

Yet r, players and listeners alike seem to have become entirely used to an orchestral sound that not one of the great composers before that time would have expected or imagined. When Berlioz and Schumann, Brahms and Wagner, Bruckner and Mahler, Schoenberg and Berg were composing their masterpieces, there was only one orchestral sound: a warm, expressive, pure tone, without the glamorized vibrato we are so used to.

"Glamorous" describes the new sound well. The very word was little used before the 1920's. It arrived with Hollywood, aerodynamic car design, radio, ocean liners and the early days of flight. It coincided with other attempts to modernize concertgoing, like the reseating of orchestras with first and second violins juxtaposed rather than opposite each other, the replacement of gut strings with steel and the gradual elimination of applause between movements of symphonies and concertos.

True, some kinds of vibrato had always been known for soloists, whether singers or players. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was an expressive device, used to inflect long notes or to underline especially passionate moments. What was new in the 20th century was the idea of a continuous vibrato, used on every note, however short.

The great Austrian violinist Fritz Kreisler seems to have started the fashion, drawing on the style of cafe musicians and Hungarian and Gypsy fiddlers. Yet listening to Kreisler's recordings, one is struck by the delicacy of his vibrato: much more a gentle shimmer than the forced pitch change one often hears today.

Although many soloists stood against it, the new mannerism caught on quickly. Still, it was strongly and steadily resisted in one area: in orchestras, particularly German orchestras. The whole process can be heard in recorded performances. Recording came in just as the vibrato era was beginning. From 1900 on, one can hear great soloists and great orchestras at first playing with the pure tone of the previous century, then gradually changing to what we know today.

But only gradually. In the early 20's the more sensuous and entertainment-minded French players began to experiment with continuous vibrato, and the British followed suit in the late 20's. But the high-minded Germans and most of the big American institutions held out until the 30's. The Berlin Philharmonic does not appear on disc with serious vibrato until 1935 and the Vienna Philharmonic not until 1940.

During the first half of the 20th century, therefore, violin concertos were recorded with vibrato from the soloist but with pure tone from the best orchestras in Germany. It seemed normal at the time.

Some regarded the soloists as vulgar. Others thought the orchestras old-fashioned. Curiously, we hear little about this momentous change from those who lived through it. True, Schoenberg likened vibrato to the unpleasant sound of a billy goat. But what did Elgar feel as his noble world slipped away? And what about all those conductors < Toscanini, Furtwängler, Weingartner, Klemperer < brought up with one sound, then offered another by the orchestras they worked with?

Players probably had more to do with the change than conductors did. Fights must have taken place in orchestras all over America as, for instance, a French-trained flutist joined the Boston Symphony or the Philadelphia Orchestra and introduced the woodwinds to his new ideas.

A central figure in this struggle was Arnold Rosé, the concertmaster of the Vienna Court Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic from 1881 until 1938, when the Nazis threw him out. He led the orchestra all the time Mahler, his brother-in-law, directed the opera. We can hear Rosé on records with his string quartet as late as 1928, playing with exemplary clarity and naturalness and without anything resembling modern vibrato.

So if pure tone was good enough for all those great composers, what are we missing when we hear a modern glamorized orchestral tone? When the glamorous makeup falls away, the sound of an orchestra gains in many ways. The texture becomes transparent; you can hear right inside the sound. Discords are more serious and astringent.

Because the sound is not glamorized, phrasing becomes more important. Nowadays symphony orchestras tend to rely on sound rather than shape. But music is not about sound. Sound is simply its material (as paint is for painting). What music is about is gesture, color, shape, form and, especially, emotional intensity.

In addition, pure tone restores a crucial feature of 19th-century music: its innocence. We tend to think of Baroque music as having a monopoly on innocence. Yet it is certainly a feature of Mendelssohn's music, and it is equally important in Brahms and Tchaikovsky.

So can this clear, noble 19th-century sound return to normal orchestral life? Several modern orchestras have already changed their seating to the European system the great masters wrote for. Those orchestras could just as easily change their sound, too, back to that of Mendelssohn, Brahms or Mahler.

The reason to do so is not because pure tone is "authentic" but because it is beautiful, expressive and exciting.

Teri Noel Towe wrote (February 16, 2003):
Finally!

Someone who not only understands the crucial and undeniable importance of early recordings as performance practice research resources but also who is prepared to go on record (pun intended) about it in a major newspaper!

Halllelujah!

Many thanks, Maestro N., many thanks!

Now who will have the courage to address the issue of what the use of portamento really was in those pre-constant vibrato days?

My apologies for the unavoidable annoyance of multiple postings.

My best and my thanks always,

PS: If the accurate understanding of these kinds of performance practice issues is as central and as vital to you as it is to me, I fervently urge you to read Robert Philip's book on the topic,<A HREF="http://books.cambridge.org/0521235286.htm"> Early Recordings and Musical Style
- Cambridge University Press</A>, 1992.

NY Times artyicle by Roger Norrington: Time to Rid Orchestras of the Shakes

Helmut Kickton wrote (February 16, 2003):
< The reason to do so is not because pure tone is "authentic" but because it is beautiful, expressive and exciting. >
Yes, of course. But only with plain gut. For steel a vibrato is more loveley. I play both strings. The modern strings with vibrato, the gut with only a few. I also play a silk-E. Made from Elemex.

Robert Sherman wrote (February 17, 2003):
[To Teri Noel Towe] Interesting historical observation. But just as music, I like it better with vibrato (except on trombone, horn, and clarinet in most cases)

Francine Renee Hall (February 16, 2003):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I really enjoyed the Roger Norrington article. I've noticed strong orchestral vibrato on that Menuhin 7-CD boxed set played by the Bath Festival Orchestra on EMI and recorded in the late '50's, early 60's and early '70's. I wasn't aware that Americans were the founders of orchestral vibrato. However, I have to look at the British school of early and baroque music, and in this case, I find the lack of vibrato in both orchestra and singer quite bland, with an abstract, almost etheral rendition of Bach. Consequently, the British lose the meaning of Bach's German words, their expessiveness and understanding. Just look at Christopher Page's contention that there should be no instruments in early music at all, and that his sound, though beautiful, is too academic and void of feeling. Again, do we want perfection or do we want music?!

Kirk McElhearn wrote (February 16, 2003):
[To Francine Renee Hall] I find the Rilling-style string playing in Bach very tiring. Same goes for the Menhuin, though that set has some brilliant feeling in spite of vibrato.

Robert Sherman wrote (February 17, 2003):
[To Teri Noel Towe] Interesting historical observation. But just as music, I like it better with vibrato (except on trombone, horn, and clarinet in mocases)

 

Vibrato

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 4, 2003):
I am sure a lot has been said about vibrato here but since I am new I thought I would bring this topic up again. I hope you are not too tired of discussing it, but if you are, please, refer me to the older discussions.

First of all, it seems that the evidence about not using vibrato is rather slim and is actually a matter of interpretation. Does the idea of vibrato-free singing come from the fact that Bach's church music was sung by boys?

Secondly, it seems that is is more a question of personal taste than anything else. Robert praises Hellecant who has vibrato, but can't stand Fink. Kirk adores Kozena but abhors her vibrato in McCreesh's SMP. Some people made similar comments about MK - too much vibrato. Who are your favorite "vibrato-free" singers? How about the singers from the past? since vibrato became a bad word only recently, does this new fashion keep you from listening to some of the greatest Bach singers of the past?

Now, when do you decide there is TOO MUCH vibrato and when is it acceptable? What is it that you actually call VIBRATO? a kind tremble, characteristic to some voices or a wobble in old, mostly female voices? Those are two different things, of course.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (May 4, 2003):
Izabela Zbikowska wrote:
< First of all, it seems that the evidence about not using vibrato is rather slim and is actually a matter of interpretation. Does the idea of vibrato-free singing come from the fact that Bach's church music was sung by boys? >
I think it comes from the fact that many treatises of baroque music (written in the period) mention that vibrato is used as an ornament - an ornament is not something you use all the time.

< Secondly, it seems that is is more a question of personal taste than anything else. Robert praises Hellecant who has vibrato, but can't stand Fink. Kirk adores Kozena but abhors her vibrato in McCreesh's SMP. Some people made similar comments about MK - too much vibrato. Who are your favorite "vibrato-free" singers? How about the singers from the past? since vibrato became a bad word only recently, does this new fashion keep you from listening to some of the greatest Bach singers of the past? >
One that comes to mind is Emma Kirkby, whose virbrato is often restrained and tasteful.

< Now, when do you decide there is TOO MUCH vibrato and when is it acceptable? What is it that you actually call VIBRATO? a kind tremble, characteristic to some voices or a wobble in old, mostly female voices? Those are two different things, of course. >
The worst is when the vibrato vibrates at a rhythm that is at odds with the underlying rhythm of the music - that is the case, if I remember correctly, with the recent Fink recording I mentioned earlier.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (May 4, 2003):
[To Kir McElhearn] For me, it depends on whether it's choral/consort or if it's solo singing (duets included).

For choral singing, I feel it should be outlawed or very diminished. It just rubs way too much, and causes the blend of the voices to suffer drastically.

For solo singing, I used to have a thing against it for really no reason (yes, silly me). Now I realize that for baroque music a bit of vib is ok, as a nice ornament, and even longer I guess. Even with Romantic era solo singing constant vib is okay, and in musicals, I almost expect constant vib-otherwise it sounds dull! The thing is that I've realised that there are much greater concerns that I have about solo singing, especially straining, such as with heldentenors and more dramatic sopranos (who should really be singin mezzo parts). An example of a soprano who used constant vibrato but I had no trouble with is Wilma Lipp, and hearing her sing those astronomic notes Mozart wrote for the Queen of the Night is breathtaking!

As for non/low-vib singers, Kirkby has already been mentioned, but I especially like Scholl and fellow Canadian Suzie LeBlanc. David Thomas is also great on the low side, and I think de Mey has a great balance between vib and no-vib.

Thomas Radleff wrote (May 4, 2003):
[To Izabela Zbikowska] Most of what I wanted to reply has been said already. Actually, I think it´s mostly a matter of taste.

I normally prefer less vibrato for Alte Musik, and my personal category for its extent is, if I can still make a difference between a trill and the singer´s vibrato.

Thanks for mentioning two of your favourites, Bernarda Fink and La Bartoli - the latter´s dramatic impulse I appreciate very much, but both of them have, in my ears, so much vibrato that any trill and ornamentation gets drowned in their regular oscillation.

Now I´m looking forward to Minkovski´s Giulio Cesare, which should be released in summer. I´ve been at one of the life concerts from which it is taken, and it was a delight to hear even Anne Sophie von Otter together with Kozena - without much audible difference in their voices´ qualities. But I realized something similar as you have seen on this DVD (which I don´t know): Kozena seemed to be not very much trained to stand on a stage; quite colourless appearance.

Some of my favourite sopranos in the field of Alte Musik (without firm frontiers): Anna Hlavenková, Susanne Rydén, Jill Feldman, most of the singers in Rinaldo Alessandrini´s Monteverdi recordings, Tania d´Althann, Barbara Schlick, Júlia Hamari...

Some of the deeper ones: Andreas Scholl, Christoph Prégardien, Istvan Gáti, Peter Kooy...

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 5, 2003):
[To Thomas Radleff] Thanks, Thomas, for your comments. I am afraid that i am not very keen on vibrato-free voices. They can sound heavenly but they tire me very quickly. M-C.Kiehr is one of those heavenly voices that I like in small doses (Jacobs's recording of Maddalena ai piedi di Christo shows her at her best). I adore Scholl - I think he is the only countertenor who still sounds like a man and can produce heroic sound when necessary. I like him in Bach too. I generally dislike countertenors because they are generally boring singers. I dare to say that in the past decades, when there weren't so many of them and their voices were of rather lower quality than those today, they were still much more interesting as performers. They treated their singing as art, not as an opportunity to show off. I do prefer female voices in castrato roles and before I actually buy a recording that features countertenors, i have to think twice. My greatest problem is the omnipresence of them, particularly of David Daniels who spoiled for me three rather good Händel recordings (Rinaldo/Hogwood, Hercule/ Minkowski, L' Allegro, Il Penseroso.../ Nelson)

I think vibrato-free singing should be a domain of male voices. You mention Alessandrini's singers. I don't have his Monteverdi, but I have just listened to his Händel (Il Trionfo....) and there I found the soprano Deborah York rather pale (she is also on McCreesh's SMP (BWV 244)). I heard her in concert once with Herreweghe and I don't really remember any impressions which may prove that she actually didn't make any, on me at least. Andreas Scholl was among the soloists that evening too (it was the B-minor Mass (BWV 232)) and i remember how astonishing his voice was, and how little of its glory was preserved on Scholl's recordings. I think it would be a great loss if - because of the caprices of the recording industry - Scholl disappeared from the musical scene. I haven't really heard much about him of late.

As to Kozena as a performer on stage, she does strike me as really 'colourless', to use your word. Another of her video performances - Gluck's "Orphee' shows a helpless, terrified woman who has a hard time coping with a rather demanding staging (her colleagues, equally young, do it much better). It is interesting that not much has changed in this respect in her performances and I think it shows that she is not developing as a performer. I was really initially taken by her voice and gentle singing but apparently this good impression wasn't meant last. I just have a hard time accepting Kozena as an 'establishged' singer while there are so many really magnificent, young and very well 'formed' singers that it is really absurd to make her the IT girl of the moment. But who can blame her for taking up the opportunity?

Johan van Veen wrote (May 5, 2003):
Izabela Zbikowska wrote:
>>>I am sure a lot has been said about vibrato here but since I am new I thought I would bring this topic up again. I hope you are not too tired of discussing it, but if you are, please, refer me to the older discussions.
First of all, it seems that the evidence about not using vibrato is rather slim and is actually a matter of interpretation. Does the idea of vibrato-free singing come from the fact that Bach's church music was sung by boys? <<<
Like Kirk said it has much more to do with what we know from treatises, although they seem not always to be anonymous on the subject and are sometimes difficult to interpret.

To support the assertion that the use of boys by Bach has nothing to do with it, I would refer to the fact that not all boys sing vibrato-free. There is a series of recordings with trebles from the past (late 20's to early 50's) from Britain (called 'The Better Land') which shows that some trebles used quite a lot of vibrato. And in the Bach cantata seris by Leonhardt and Harnoncourt some boys are also singing with more vibrato than one would expect from a boy singer.

Secondly, it seems that is is more a question of personal taste than anything else. Robert praises Hellecant who has vibrato, but can't stand Fink. Kirk adores Kozena but abhors her vibrato in McCreesh's SMP (BWV 244). Some people made similar comments about MK - too much vibrato. Who are your favorite "vibrato-free" singers? How about the singers from the past? since vibrato became a bad word only recently, does this new fashion keep you from listening to some of the greatest Bach singers of the past?

It is a matter of debate whether the use of extensive vibrato is a relatively recent development. There are plenty of recordings from before WW II - for example songs by Schubert - which show that singers were using much less vibrato than many singers of today do. That is in line with impressions one get from recordings of - for instance - string quartets from the 30's, 40's and even 50's.

There are some indications, though, that there have been singers in the 18th and 19th century who did use more vibrato than usual in their days. I remember having read some negative comments by the likes of Mozart and Wagner (!) about singers whom they disliked for using too much vibrato.

It is interesting to note that Joseph Joachim, a close friend of Brahms and one of the main violin virtuosos in the second half of the 19th century, still considered vibrato an ornament. It shows how long the so-called 'baroque' ideal of vibrato as an ornament was held in esteem.

Santu De Silva wrote (May 13, 2003):
Izabela Zbikowska writes:
>>>I am sure a lot has been said about vibrato here but since I am new I thought I would bring this topic up again. ...

... Secondly, it seems that is is more a question of personal taste than anything else. Robert praises Hellecant who has vibrato, but can't stand Fink. Kirk adores Kozena but abhors her vibrato in McCreesh's SMP. Some people made similar comments about MK - too much vibrato. >
Two things: I believe that what Kozena has is not vibrato (an oscillation of the PITCH about the actual written note, rather like a trill) but rather a tremolo: a variation in intensity.

For instance flute players use tremolo e.g. James Galway. Too much of it is really annoying, in any kind of music, baroque or otherwise.

Violin players would be expected to use vibrato, since it is done with the arm and the wrist on the fingerboard (but there's somevolume variation as well).

Kozena's tremolo is annoying at times, and endearing at times. Keep reading!

< Now, when do you decide there is TOO MUCH vibrato and when is it acceptable? What is it that you actually call VIBRATO? a kind tremble, characteristic to some voices or a wobble in old, mostly female voices? Those are two different things, of course. >
Exactly; the trembling and the wobbling are both caused by the natural characteristics of musculature. In the former case, it is a consequence of the effort to control the breath, in the wobble, it is a consequence of the need to sing loudly, again using more effort than the body is comfortable in sustaining.

There maybe singing and physiology experts on the list who disagree, but this is what I have come to believe, having tried to sing without tremolo/vibrato myself. That for singing and woodwinds. For string players, vibrato is sometimes a method to disguise groping for a note, sometimes an ornament, sometimes just an affectation, or a mere mannerism.

Vibrato and tremolo can both be expressive devices. Listen to Dawn Upshaw, or Julie Andrews. (Certainly, they do not sing the Baroque repertoire, but you hear the judicious use of vibrato as an expressive device.) This skill has survived better among non-classical singers far better than among classical vocalists. (The reasons may lie with the demands of singing in very large rooms, or competing against very large, loud orchestras in operatic works.)

Barbara Bonney is a singer who sings with a constant vibrato, and I find her hard to listen to for very long. Dawn Upshaw has many vocal affectations, but I find her easy to listen to despite them :)

Are Soholt wrote (May 13, 2003):
James Galway and VIBRATO

Vibrate is a natural thing, and it comes naturally when one sings,

Santu De Silva wrote:
< Two things: I believe that what Kozena has is not vibrato (an oscillation of the PITCH about the actual written note, rather like a trill) but rather a tremolo: a variation in intensity.
For instance flute players use tremolo e.g. James Galway. >
James Galway is not making a tremolo, he has a naturally huge vibrato, wich is somwhat disturbing when listen to him playing baroque music. But it is still a control in the way that his breath is, what we say, deap in the body. When your breath is important to have if one aim to sing bel canto. It the breath is to high, the vibrato will be faster and more stressed.

To sing, and play in big rooms, one need to go deap in the body to get a warm and rich vibrato. When playing/singing baroque music, this is not that important, and one can focus on making a healthy tone that is smaller/thinner, and without vibrato.

 

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Last update: ıSeptember 12, 2010 ı09:32:15