Tuesday, July 23, 2019

One very good reason to buy this new classical album


Jeremy Denk's new album c.1300-c.2000 received what can only be described as a stinker of a review in the Gramophone. According to reviewer Michelle Assay c.1300-c.2000 has...
"passed into the zone marked ‘futile’...almost the entire first disc makes little sense...the result sounds little better than clever monochrome doodling...we get into the objections of having the history of classical music told via a few works by a few great white men...the conceptual flaws of the project remain glaring...[Jeremy Denk] says that his aim is to tell a story rather than to be didactic; either way he falls short".
Let me explain why that review is a very good reason for every reader to at least audition this new album. We live in an age of hypermediation. Music is mediated into playlists and mixtapes that fit neatly into our comfort zones. Self-important critics and radio presenters interpose themselves between listener and music. Social media - now a primary information source - is covertly mediated by algorithms and filter bubbles which guarantee that our musical prejudices and preconceptions will only be reinforced.

Such is the relentless domination of these intermediaries that a new and significant phenomenon is emerging - intermediary dissonance. For a small but growing group - which includes this writer - excessive hype by intermediaries of a composer or performer - e.g. how a conductor is saving classical music - is a clear 'avoid at all costs' signal. Conversely an excessively negative review - "this project has passed into the zone marked ‘futile’" - is a 'most definitely worth exploring' signal.

'Early adopters' are those who embrace new techno-cultural trends ahead of the wave. But another new force, again small but growing, is emerging - 'early rejecters'. These free thinkers swim against the techno-cultural tide mindlessly surfed by the intermediaries. The emerging power of the 'early rejecters' is shown by the backlash against the virtual experience of music streaming. This triggered the spectacular rejuvenation of the vinyl market: a significant development scorned by the cultural commentators and still largely ignored by the blinkered classical industry.

The Gramophone once had authority. But there is now a saying that musicians who can, do; while those who can't, write for the Gramophone. I have no aspirations, yet alone qualifications, to be a critic. But as a humble early rejecter who is severely afflicted by intermediary dissonance, this is my review of Jeremy Denk's c.1300-c.2000.

It is debatable whether the classical discography needs another complete recording of Beethoven’s Op 111 sonata. But there is a more convincing argument that classical music needs prejudices and preconceptions to be challenged, and pianist Jeremy Denk's impeccable artistic credentials grant him the creative license to do just that with his overarching new project c.1300-c.2000.

Another reading of the Op 111 sonata is unlikely to bring fresh insights to this masterpiece. But juxtaposing it with transcriptions of Machaut and Binchois, as Jeremy Denk does, opens up rewarding new perspectives. In his seminal The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell leads us on an exploration of the role across the ages of the archetypal hero in the world of myths. Similarly, in c1300-c2000 Jeremy Denk leads us on an exploration of the role of the archetypal composing hero in the world of classical masterpieces. But don't take my word or that of any other biased intermediary. Please at least listen to this remarkable new album and make up your own mind - sample via this link.
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6 comments:

DLW said...

Our local classical station (WUOL) has been playing various excerpts from this album for the past week or so.

It's a beautifully played and conceived album.

It should be bought for that reason alone, but there's also something to be said for buying it to spite the Grammophone reviewer with her casual racism (now almost obligatory in leftist/PC circles) denouncing works by "white men."

Pliable said...

Yes. As regular readers will know OAOP takes a particularly diverse view of art music. But I thought that comment about "the history of classical music told via a few works by a few great white men" was particularly stupid. For the reasons we are all aware of, the history of Western classical music is dominated by white men. Those reasons are wrong and things are changing. But history cannot be re-written, even by a self-important Gramophone reviewer.

Graeme said...

I have to say that I am more attracted to recitals by people like Jonathan Biss who splice Janacek and Schumann rather than those completists who play 5 Schubert sonatas and believe they are making a programme. Heaven save us from completists. Richter and Horovitz didn't do it

P.B. said...

I find that negative reviews spark at least curiosity in me. Now I want to listen to this even more.

I'm grateful I found OAOP before the rise of streaming apps. I use them now, since in my country (Philippines), vinyl and CDs of classical music (outside of the really popular composers) are very hard to come by. But I've realized that these apps rely on a person's "laziness" to find new music so that they can do the "thinking" for him. OAOP, for me at least, made me appreciate the art of seeking music yourself.

DEMON COOK said...

I have been enjoying Jeremy Denk's new album. I think it is an interesting concept and what is more, the music is extremely well-played as befits this intelligent and skilled pianist. I wonder if some of the critical antithesis towards it is because he chooses not to play complete sonatas and this may be seen as rather 'subversive'? He explained the concept of the album extremely well in a recent interview on Radio 4's Front Row. A friend of mine heard Denk perform this "history of classical music" at the Wigmore and said it was fascinating (I was sorry to miss it). Inon Barnatan did something similar with a programme based on the structure of Baroque suite with single movements drawn from a seemingly eclectic mix of composers - it was brilliant. Refreshingly different and again beautifully presented.

cowtownshortwave said...

Read a review or two ... sounds an interesting record. But for now another point of interest for me is the cover art - it's a piece I've seen many times as it's in the permenant collection at the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth Texas, aka Cowtown - https://www.themodern.org/collection/artists/puryear/martin