Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Vibrato kerfuffle

Roger Norrington, the British maestro and longtime advocate of "historically informed" orchestral performance, conducts Elgar with minimal vibrato. At the Proms, no less. Musicological-patriotic uproar ensues, The New York Times reports:

A somewhat less detached view from The Guardian:

As it happens, Elgar was the earliest prominent composer to conduct his major orchestral works on recordings, several of which remain in circulation: the Violin Concerto (with the 12-year-old Yehudi Menuhin) and "Enigma" Variations (EMI Classics 66994); the Cello Concerto (with Beatrice Harrison) and Symphony No. 2 (Classica d'Oro 1054).

Under Elgar's direction, London orchestras played with near-modern levels of string vibrato, albeit inconsistently applied. Also, notably in the 1926 "Enigma" recording, with plenty of portamento, the technique of sliding from note to note, which commonly induces something akin to motion sickness among musicians and listeners today.

Norrington dismisses vibrato as musical "central heating." No word yet on his use or not of portamento, and if not, his preferred plumbing analogy.