The Art-Music Forum

About music in general => Performance and technique => Topic started by: Neil McGowan on January 16, 2014, 08:54:24 pm

Title: Badly Sung Composers
Post by: Neil McGowan on January 16, 2014, 08:54:24 pm
We've mentioned the phenomenon before - musical groups and performers who can't really manage major works or mainstream composers, but instead hoist their flag to the cause of little-known works, on the "your only chance to hear" slogan.

This evening I spent nearly half an hour trying to listen to a performance of a very nice baroque opera - whose charming music was sadly waylaid by a soprano who sang a quarter-tone sharp for most of the time. There were several complex arias for a virtuoso bass, involving a great number of semiquaver runs up and down, and arpeggiated figures which were also in semiquavers. The singer concerned achieved around a one-in-four hit rate - the rest of the written notes being delivered as a kind of drunken slur of indeterminate pitch.

Should fans of "Unsung" composers be 'grateful" for this kind of performance?  Do they popularise the composers concerned?  Or are they the final nail in the coffin :(

Oddly the orchestral playing was quite neat - it was the only thing which kept me tuned in ;)

Title: Re: Badly Sung Composers
Post by: SerAmantiodiNicolao on January 16, 2014, 10:25:31 pm
To me, it depends on the quality (or lack thereof) of the performance.  I've heard things which have been less-than-professional grade, but which I've been able to forgive because the gist of the music showed through nicely.  It's fairly rare that I hear something offensively bad enough that I want to put it away from me.  I can think of one disc offhand, of Maltese church music, where the string playing is so out of touch that I'm almost sorry I purchased it.

The key word being "almost", of course.

Title: Re: Badly Sung Composers
Post by: BrianA on January 17, 2014, 01:28:29 am
There is, I think, a point of diminishing return.  I remember when I first purchased the famous (?) recordings of the music of Havergal Brian by the City of Hull Youth Symphony Orchestra thinking that, as interested as I was in Brian's music, this was not a really wise use of my limited record buying budget.

Title: Re: Badly Sung Composers
Post by: Dundonnell on January 17, 2014, 03:50:25 am
In its early days Naxos struggled with a number of Eastern European and Far Eastern orchestras recording totally unfamiliar idioms in murky sound. Some of these recordings were actually either quite good or at least acceptable.

Today Naxos's sound quality has improved considerably but-above all-the general standard of orchestral musicianship has improved out of all recognition. The Buffalo or Nashville orchestras in the USA, for example, and most of the Eastern European orchestras can master an unfamiliar idiom and turn it very good to superb performances :)

Which is just as well considering that the major orchestras very seldom record anything these days unless it is taken from a live performance!

Title: Re: Badly Sung Composers
Post by: cilgwyn on January 17, 2014, 12:28:24 pm
There is, I think, a point of diminishing return.  I remember when I first purchased the famous (?) recordings of the music of Havergal Brian by the City of Hull Youth Symphony Orchestra thinking that, as interested as I was in Brian's music, this was not a really wise use of my limited record buying budget.

That never thought occurred to me. As a teenager,The Cameo Lp of In Memoriam,For Valour and Festal Dance was one of my most played Lps! It certainly did no harm to my enthusiasm for Brian,whatsoever.In fact,I just wanted to hear even more!! I'm still grateful to the Hull Youth SO and Cameo for introducing me to such wonderful music! They were school children,after all,BrianA!!! And I still think their performances of 'In Memoriam' and 'Festal Dance' have more passion,and in the case of the latter,unbridled fun,than those dull,impersonal Marco Polo performances,even if the strings are out of tune! :o ;D Also,with respect to 'Festal Dance',they unwittingly (or wittingly) included one masterstroke! They included the wonderfully zany ad lib piano part!!
Don't like their performance of 'For Valour' though. But then I've never really been keen on the piece,anyway!

Not everyone can be the LSSO!!!! ::) ;D

Title: Re: Badly Sung Composers
Post by: jimfin on January 18, 2014, 06:37:05 am
There is certainly a limit to my patience, however grateful I am to enthusiastic amateurs. I have always happily listened to the Prince Consort Sullivan recordings, until professional recordings of some of those operas became available, but the Hull HB recordings are a little beyond my listening power. Likewise some of the earlier Imperial Opera recordings of much Sullivan or the truly awful Beauchamp Opera (?) recording of 'Ivanhoe', which I once sat through. In tune but a bit ropey I can cope with, so most Naxos and Cameo is fine.

Title: Re: Badly Sung Composers
Post by: cilgwyn on January 18, 2014, 05:20:50 pm
Actually,the only Hull Youth So recordings I ever listen to are 'In Memoriam' and 'For Valour',and not even those much. I prefer Brian's later music these days! I just don't want to be horrible about them. I mean,what if one of them was reading these posts?!! :o ;D

What Cameo Classics and the Hull Youth SO was doing was,in many ways,truly commendable. If only they'd been as good as the LSSO!! :(

One of the problems with amateur music making I feel,whether it's an orchestral or stage performance,is that while it may be enjoyable if you are actually there in the audience listening or watching,or if it's one of your family performing;listening to it on Lp or cd,in the 'cold light of day',might not be such an enjoyable experience! And even more so,if you were not even there!
On the other side of the coin you might have a performance that is so dire that it has no redeeming quality whatsoever! Not even any atmosphere or fun in the proceedings,not even the unexpected pleasures of a broken spring,a prop that doesn't work or a fainting soloist! The last thing you need is a recording to play at home!
To be fair,I can think of some truly awful professional performances. And even today,most Brian enthusiasts seem to prefer the old LSSO recordings to the professional ones that have been recently released on Dutton and Naxos! But the LSSO were exceptional weren't they?!!

The Ohio Light Opera are another example! Although,according to their website and Wikipedia they are a professional company!
While what they are doing in performing and recording rare operetta is laudable and maybe even enjoyable if you are actually 'there' watching them perform?! As something to listen to over and over again on cd,I'm not so sure!!! According to some reviews I have seen lately,the quality of their recordings does seem to have improved and I hope that is true! Unfortunately,the ones I've listened to have been a decidedly mixed experience! While they do have some good singers,some of them are b***** awful!! Curiously,the women generally seem allot better than the men! In fact,some of the female soloists in their recordings of Oscar Straus's 'The Chocolate Soldier' and Monckton's 'The Arcadians' were acually very good indeed! I also had no problem with their orchestra or the deliver of the dialogue. In fact,I actually rather liked the feeling of being at a live performance. In that respect,their recording of 'The Arcadians' definately scored. But,oh dear,some of the male performers!! And one of the worst cocker-nee accents since Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins!! And I'd been wanting to hear complete performances of these operettas for years!!
To be fair,if you are prepared to grit your teeth through the bits with the dodgier male singers,their 'Arcadians' has allot more fun in it than the better sung but rather humour free emi excerpts! And the female soloist in their 'Chocolate Soldier' has a lovely creamy sounding voice! In fact,to give her credit,she was so good I kept wondering what she was doing with that lot?!!

What I can't understand is the choice of singers. Some good,one or two not bad at all and allot of male singers who are plain b**** awful! Even the barely concealed American accents didn't really bother me. Well,they are American,after all!! I just don't understand why anyone would let some of these soloists soil what might have otherwise have been perfectly enjoyable recordings!
The Arcadians is a particularly wonderful operetta. I would actually go so far as to rate it very highly! I like the inclusion of the dialogue in the Ohio recording because it's an entertaining plot and there was a sense of fun which you don't get in allot of operetta recordings.
I have to say,I have not been impressed by some recent operetta recordings. I fear that the 'golden age' of operetta recording is over and that when we do finally get a complete recording it will either be a dodgy live recording (aka the recent Naxos Leo Fall) or well sung,but devoid of fun!! And I do prefer to have some dialogue,otherwise it just becomes a sequence of songs and choruses and nothing more! This can always be abridged and thanks to modern technolgy,separately tracked for those who don't like it.
As to 'The Chocolate Soldier' (Der Tapfere Soldat). This is the sort of thing that emi electrola could have pulled off with an all star cast years ago. Okay,they may have might have mucked about with the score a little,but at least they would have captured the escapism and glamour that is so essential to this genre of entertainment!

Title: Re: Badly Sung Composers
Post by: cilgwyn on January 20, 2014, 09:06:51 pm
Regarding the Ohio Light Opera recordings and 'badly sung composers'!
Imho (as they say) anyone who is interested in rare operetta,and doesn't have an aversion to mono recordings,would be far,far better off investigating the cds of operetta from the Cantus Classics (Cantus lin) and Membran labels. These originate from 1950's  German radio broadcasts. Most,if not all of the ones I've heard,are in mono;but the sound quality is very good indeed,even for it's time! (Although,some are possibly a bit better than others).
The singing and conducting is usually of excellent quality and,as far as I can make out,in most instances uses authentic orchestrations. Yes,the performances may appear 'dated' (whatever that's supposed to mean) but then I suppose being 50's recordings they would be,wouldn't they?!! ::) ;D  That said;when you listen to these performances you are listening to an actual living tradition. Indeed,some of these recordings were made not too many years after the works actual premiere performance!
Notes are in German only with no libretto,include some linking dialogue,appropriate sound effects,usually well done and sometimes include a narrator,at the beginning,introducing the work. After getting my ears used to the style of these performances I am beginning to wonder whether any new recordings could really improve on these performances. In fact,I think the best ones I've heard are absolutely wonderful! :) :)

One recording I didn't enjoy was Kalman's 'Die Zirkusprinzessin'. Why,oh why this idea of singing funny songs in a funny voice? Not a good idea! One to file with Ivan Rebroff in Kleiber's 'Die Fledermaus' (DG) or that lisp in the D'oyly Carte's 70's remake of 'The Gondoliers (Decca) Tut! Tut!! ::) Anyway,that one went to the charity shop!! :( Although,to be fair,they wouldn't have expected it to be released as a commercial recording.

I am currently listening to Nico Dostal's 'Clivia'. A superb performance of a particularly lovely operetta. The performances are excellent and the orchestrations are a particular delight. I have heard that Dostal was up there with the best! Well,unless my ears deceive me,it's true! I would certainly put this amongst the best of the silver age operettas.

And going right back to the subject of this thread;I end this post with one heartfelt plea. Unless you really have kicked out all your bad singers;please don't record this one Ohio Light Opera! You might just unwittingly give operetta lovers a bad impression of an unjustly neglected operetta!!

Maybe I should start an operetta thread?!! ;D