Originally Posted by Mark from HFR
I never said it wasn't. I'm merely being realistic-- Once the players have been chosen, they're there, and though they will be influenced by the various conductors they work with, they will always have their particular "angle" and philosophy of playing. To suggest that any conductor can make any major orchestra sound like he or she wants them to sells the musicians seriously short. Having heard the Cleveland Orchestra numerous times in concert, I can assure you that they still maintain a corporate sound whether being conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi, Sir Georg Solti, Michael Tilson Thomas, or some young unknown. They sound different under each one, but are still recognizably the Cleveland Orchestra. A conductor is an influence, not a source.
Yes, Cleveland still has something of the same sound that it had with Szell, but if they were to be taken over by someone who wanted to change them, they would change. The world (Cleveland Board) has gotten used to the way they sounded under Szell and want to preserve that sound, but unless they are going to be like the WP and preserve the horns, strings and various other instruments -- passing them down from musician to musician -- their sound will change.
|Beside the point? I thought that was the point... Like Klaus Tennstedt used to say, the Mahler sound should be a bit "dirty". If it's too gleaming, too precise, or too lush, it loses its emotive character. I'm just saying that if Abbado is wrong, Karajan was equally wrong in the other direction. But these kinds of flaws can be found in everything. I suppose it's ultimately pointless to argue the merits of any recording around here, as we all hold such string opinions anyhow.
The best sound for Mahler is always going to be something that causes debate. I doubt that Gustav himself with his historic reputation for complete control and micromanagement wanted anything but the most precise type of playing, but that obviously didn't work for Tennstedt. When he says "dirty" I'm not exactly sure of what he means. Certainly he would want an orchestra playing in excellent ensemble with no obvious musical errors such as a horn coming in too soon or cracking, or a reed slightly out of sync like the stereotype of a provincial, Italian opera company? By dirty does he mean earthy? "Dirty" is a term that is extremely hard to pin down.
Now, many think that HvK's sound was too lush for Mahler, but he was quite successful with his orchestra in a few of his recordings as is Michael Tilson Thomas who presents Mahler in quite a polished and brilliant manner. Which particular "sound" best suits the music may be something that needs discussion, but from where I'm sitting, if the music works it works and the sound is just a component of the whole. Certainly the Chicago under Barenboim had a great, lushly silky tone and still the M5 I heard this past season was immensely powerful and the depth of the sound contributed to the success of the piece. The Berliners had a much thinner tone and perhaps in another's hands the M4 might have come off sounding light and very "neo classical," whereas in Rattle's hands it just sounded thin and frustrated. Would lusher sound have improved anything? I doubt it as there was a lot more wrong with that performance than the sound of the BP, but if everything had gone well and worked I suspect that lusher, more layered sound would have enhanced the music.
Right now there is a movement in music towards the leaner sound. There is such an obsession with "transparency" that some orchestras are thinned to the point of anorexia and "inner voices" end up almost as mini solos. We are probably hearing things that composers probably didn't want heard except in the context of the orchestral sound. It's hard for me to find a musical analogy, the closest I can come is to the recent (in the past 10 years or so) cleaning that the Prado did of some Velasquez paintings. The curators and cleaning staff apparently got so carried away with the process (or completely failed to understand how strong some of the solutions were) that they stripped away the topmost layer of the painter's pigment along with the worst dirt and yellowed varnish. This resulted in paintings where you could actually see the underpainting, pentimentos and subtle changes Velasquez had made on the canvas as he worked (the inner voices as it were). Well, sometimes I think that the inner voices of the orchestra shouldn't be so obvious, they need to be covered by the overlay of sound from the rest of the orchestra the way an artist layers over the underpainting with other layers and glazes. The presence of the underpainting gives depth and richness while not showing on the surface. The same with those "inner voices;" sometimes they are there not as mini-solos that need to be heard independantly but as something that should be barely discerned except for the cumulative enrichment of the sound.
Dirty vs. clean, transparent vs. lush; maybe Tennstedt was referring to dirt as something on the surface that blurs details, rather than a quality of rough earthiness. Maybe he was complaining about too much transparency and his dirt was like the layers of grime on a painting, though I tend to doubt he thought in those terms.