Wasn’t sure where to post this.
One of my pet peeves of the last few years is music criticism.
I have a lot of gripes but one of the main ones is reviews that don’t actually say anything about the performance that they are purported to be reviews of.
Thus I present for your edification this beautifully meaningless ‘review’ of Debargue’s recital at the weekend. Unfortunately, it’s in french but maybe some will enjoy it.
agree – i don’t see how that can even be called criticism or a review at all.
artistic commentary has pissed people off for a long time, and not just musicians:
"In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning(2). Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. "
There is something to be said for that point of view to be sure. It is very easy to criticise - fun too - (10 points if you get the reference) but unless you’ve actually put yourself out there on stage on a semi regular basis you really don’t know just how hard it is. That’s one of the reasons I’m never particularly harsh, even when I don’t like someone’s playing. On the other hand, you don’t need to be a chicken to know a rotten egg.
I like that, I’m glad it’s not just me. Reminds me of Koji’s “ice water clarity” press quote (no hate Koji, if you pass by here) which always amused Comme.
This critic at least gives reasons for his conclusions (for the most part).
The comment section is a clusterfuck but interesting because of the often trotted out counter-criticism “you can’t criticise Pollini unless you can do better”, which isn’t really fair since not being able to do something has never stopped people from having an opinion on it before (e.g. food at a restaurant, poltical decisions etc).
I think a critic’s job is to say true and insightful things about a performance.
The easiest way to do that is to talk only about technical things. But people obviously care about artistry, stage presence etc.
The problem is that critics often lack technical knowledge to make useful comments as far as those basic objective issues are concerned. The reason critics can (and do) get away with ignorance is probably because they write for newspapers and websites read by (and managed/edited by) people without any real technical knowledge or expertise themselves. Ultimately, it’s the public / market’s fault that criticism is not only bad, but filled with clichéd descriptions likening octaves in Liszt Sonata to thunderstorms.
By the way, that Pollini review seemed OK - aligns with my assessment of that live, recent Liszt TE on youtube.
Also…I remember that ice-water clarity quote and even that comme liked it. I remember him and (or mart? or zepp?) also liked the phrase “stunningly fluid”. I can’t remember who it was about. MT?
Ha! Someone posted that on fb and there was a massive conversation about how terrible a review it was and we should have nothing but praise for Pollini becuase of all he’s given us.
I see both sides to the story, although I don’t find it particularly harsh review.
I don’t see why we should continue to pay to see a pianist who’s a shadow of who he used to be.
I mean we don’t keep picking fast bowlers who lose their pace.
I can understand from Pollini’s perspective how hard it must be to give up performing after so many years, which is why I thought it was harsh.
I don’t think the review is irreproachable, for example the South Bank vs Wigmore audience comparison. I’ve never been to London but in Paris the audience is the same wherever you go.
The thing I like about the review is that he makes it fairly clear that it’s his opinion.
Oftentimes critics will just make assertions and pompously act like they are axiomatic.