Tuesday 11 April 2006

Critical Choice

You go to a concert, which you enjoy greatly and then the next day read the reviews and find that the critics seem to have been at a different concert. Or even worse, you have tickets for the opera and the reviews come out; do you believe the critics and abandon your trip, or risk it.

Quite often, I find myself at odds with one critic or another. It is truly amazing that people can have such a varied response to the same event. It happens, of course, because we all have different bug-bears and this comes out in the reviews. What to one person is a slight annoyance or even a positive virtue, is something horrible to another. My own bug-bear is the question of authenticity and editions, so going to something like Verdi's Don Carlo I can get rather hung up on exactly what we are hearing, and get positively livid if the programme book does not tell you in great detail. Similarly with Handelian Opera Seria the edition used and the attitude to da capo arias is very important. I realise that productions of baroque opera which appeal to me quite often seem unreservedly boring to others. And vice versa, David McVicar's production of Guilio Cesare, which received a degree of critical acclaim, seemed to David and I to be full of awful crowd-pleasing moments which destroyed Handel's drama. So you can't please everyone.

A fascinating example of this was the recent performance of Henry and Daniel Purcell's music for The Indian Queen which Philip Pickett and the New London Consort gave at the South Bank the other day. Richard Morrison's review in the Times caught my eye because his turn of phrase was so memorable; so when I spotted Tim Ashley in the Guardian having exactly the opposite view, then I was transfixed.

Tim Ashley in The Guardian said: The playing was fabulous, the singing faultless, and the whole thing revealed The Indian Queen to be, if not quite a masterpiece, then a work of great brilliance, wit and emotional power..

Richard Morrison in The Times said: I would run barefoot through nettles to hear Purcell’s music, but even I was bored rigid by this interminably dreary presentation of his final theatre score.

The problem seems to be that Pickett chose to link the music with his own adaptation of Dryden's verse, so how you reacted to the project depended on how you liked yards and yards of 17th century verse, not all of good quality.

I'm going to keep my eyes open for further reviews!


  1. Anonymous10:41 am

    I went to the Purcell concert. I enjoyed it (thought the first violin was excellent as was the soprano Joanne Lunn) and did not find the verse tedious. Nice to see the rather silver haired audience titter at Dryden's description of marriage as a tedious burden! It was not all top drawer Purcell, and yes, the singers were rather buried in their copies, but I think everyone appreciated the quality of the performers and the inventiveness of the arrangement. Maybe Richard Morrison is just too cynical?

  2. Glad to hear from someone who was actually there, just shows that you can't always trust what you read in the papers!


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