Friday, August 15, 2008

Vibrato strikes again!

Those of us who study and teach historical performance practice are forever confronting the vibrato bugaboo. Getting beyond the fear is usually the first (and often the only) order of business: yes, you too can sing or play with less (or more!) vibrato, and it sounds just fine when you do it -- that is, as long as you're doing everything else correctly. It's the "everything else" that's usually the problem: intonation, breath support, a flexible bow arm, etc.

Over the last decade or so, the leading lights of period-instrument performance have been working to expand the reach of this kind of musical practice, both for themselves and the ensembles they conduct. Period-instrument Mozart or Beethoven is now far less controversial than it was in 1990. But vibrato-less Elgar? That's what the London Proms promises this year, as reported in yesterday's NYTimes

I'm particularly struck with Norrington's comment about his love of the pure, vibrato-less string sound, despite his admission that Elgar probably put up with "a fair bit" of it. Once again, taste trumps history. A chacun son goût!

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