Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Nicki Harnoncourt's Brahms blind spot
Nick Harnoncourt (yes, I call him Nick) is one of the great artists of our time. A conductor of negligible natural ability who by the sheer dint of his incredible musical ideas manages to elicit stunning performances. But are you (*&(#($*$*& kidding me Nicki? Really??? This is the most traditional Brahms Requiem since Karajan. Just stay away from Brahms. You clearly believe in that beard.
Brahms's German Requiem is the dullest piece of music of the 19th century if you're not willing to play it at breakneck speed. 30 years ago Nick said in an interview that the German Requiem was never played according to Brahms's own specified tempos. If it ever were, he said, the results would astonish us all. We've now had recordings from Norrington, Gardiner, Rattle, Masur, Mehta, Herreweghe and Harry Christophers which (more or less) follow Brahms's own tempos. The results were variable, but one thing about them all was undeniable: a woolly Victorian snoozefest emerged newly minted. Brahms's requiem was suddenly full of drama and terror, and all those supposedly beautiful passages suddenly felt...well....beautiful because they stood in relief to the dramatic passages.
This is pathetic, and just plain wrong. You're better than this Nicki. What is it about Brahms that turns musicians boring?
(Nick's Brahms. Boo. It's just gotten flabbier since then.)