You can read some of my reviews of books in The Strad:
New Grove Dictionary
AB Guides to Performance of Baroque/ Classical/ Romantic Music
CUP Companion to String Quartet
Forthcoming: a review of a new book by Pedro de Alcantara Integrated Practice
I hope to add my thoughts about other books on this page soon.
Here is an edited version here of my review of the
Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music
Performer’s Guide to the Music of
-the Baroque Period
-the Classical Period
-the Romantic Period
Series Editor Anthony Burton
In Baz Luhrmann’s film ‘Strictly Ballroom,’ Scott, the free-spirited champion is told he can’t dance his own non-Federation steps in competition because ‘we can’t teach them and we can’t examine them.’ The Associated Board, however, has widened its goal posts to acknowledge the influence of ‘historically informed performance’ with it’s new ‘Performer’s Guide’ series on Baroque, Classical and Romantic music. Packed with information, they have chapters written by a wide range of experts, with as many different approaches. Instead of consistency and continuity, variety is the series’ greatest strength: this is no over-simplified blue-print for ‘correctness’. Straddling the seemingly irreconcilable demands for both rules and spontaneity, a dilemma at the heart of all performance, Andrew Manze’s article on Baroque string playing stands out. Those who still reject the notion that musicians changed the way they played in recent years, rightly claim that self-consciousness and ‘playing by rules’ have no place in good performance. But these elements play a crucial role in preparation for performance: whether it be the weekly lesson, or professionals rehearsing together; a violinist trying out Ferdinand David’s bowings and fingerings, or a cellist re-thinking Bach after experiencing Baroque dance. Much of these books' success lies in this area between rules and ‘feel’.
Christopher Hogwood wisely hopes that the book will ‘stimulate but not satisfy your necessary curiosity’. Lack of space for footnotes, however, makes it difficult follow up references, so vital in an area plagued by self-perpetuating myths. This series does debunk many unquestioned assumptions, although I’m surprised to see Leopold Mozart’s [messa di voce] treated more as a ‘basic bowing style’ than a technical exercise as I believe it was intended. ‘Notation and Interpretation’, ‘Sources and Editions’ and ‘Historical Background’ rightly account for a third of each volume. However, the rather traditional approach to form misses a trick: there is no mention of pre-1830 programmatic approaches (found in Le Huray’s ‘Authenticity in Performance’ CUP 1990 originally conceived for the ABRSM) which can be so inspiring to performers today. The Romantic volume’s accompanying CD, worth £15 alone for its insight into pre-WWI performing, includes Reinecke’s piano-roll of his friend Schumann’s music, with its extraordinary rubato, and Brahms’ friend Joachim, whose use of portamento and vibrato now seem so foreign. It is wonderful that more people will hear such performances, but it reminds me of Scott. He ditches the fake glitz of Latin Ballroom and incorporates instead the authentic spirit of Flamenco, leaving his fate in the hands of the examiners...