Monday, July 23, 2007

Roger Norrington

For a long time I’ve been puzzled about the insistence many musicians and singing teachers have on the use of vibrato, that strange trilling thing that strange trilling thing wind and string players do with longer notes, as do singers. So I was intrigued to find that Roger Norrington, has been waging ‘a sometime lonely war against the “modern drug” of vibrato.’

There was an article in the Saturday Guardian (21.07.07) where he is quoted as saying:

“The fact is orchestras didn’t generally use vibrato until the 1930s. It is a fashion, like smoking, which came in about the same time. Smoking is now going, so maybe vibrato will too. Imagine it: a vibrato-free world.”

Nicholas Wroe, the writer of the article goes on: ‘Norrington’s argument is not that vibrato “might not be a wonderful thing – it often is in jazz – but if Brahms expected to hear a particular sound, I want to know what that was. Or at least I want to hear it a few times before deciding that it is rubbish. But what I have discovered, all the way from Monteverdi to Mahler, is that when music is played as it should be, the sound is wonderful, the expression is wonderful and the instruments match together.”’

In another place, I’ve written that I feel music is played too fast these days. My comment was that musicians play things fast because they can, the result of improved technique and ability. But Norrington says that up until recently too much music was played too slowly. (I can remember sitting through a rehearsal of Fidelio years ago at Covent Garden, where Klemperer (I think it was) played everything at a funereal pace. The opera took about an hour longer than usual to perform.) And so many of his recordings have been made in an effort to bring things back up to tempo. Ah, fashion.

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