Monday, July 25, 2011

The critic speaks

All of a sudden, the music critic Andrew Porter keeps jumping out at me.

Alex Ross at the New Yorker talks about how once Porter was jumped by a mob in Milan. Well, the mob thought they were attacking him but got the wrong man. It's funny. Read the link. I guess Porter was interviewed in the new issue of Opera News and this story comes from that.

Ross says that many people, himself included, would consider Porter the greatest music critic alive.

Also the other day I was working on a story about the upcoming "Magic Flute" in Chautauqua and they were proud of that they were using the translation by Andrew Porter.

So, all of a sudden Porter is everywhere! And this means something to me because I am doing the book on Leonard Pennario. And when Pennario was 28, Porter -- who was a couple of years younger -- heard him and could not believe what he was hearing.

I have no idea what Andrew Porter looks like and I cannot find a picture of him. So at the top of this post I have substituted a painting of myself listening to Pennario.

I will tell you this, though: When Porter heard Pennario live at the Wigmore Hall in London, that was when he said, "No one today plays the piano better than Pennario."

In Gramophone he wrote how dazzled he was by Pennario's treatment of the Schulz-Evler transcription of Johann Strauss' "Blue Danube" Waltz.

"But what playing!" I love that line.

I have seen mean-minded critics take lines out of context, to make it sound, for instance, as if Porter, when he said Pennario's trills went off like electric bells, meant that he sounded mechanical. In context you can see Porter meant that in admiration. The question to me is, why would other critics go out of their way to turn it around and make it seem otherwise. Pooh on them! Naturally I will be more professional in the book but let me tell you this, I am going into it, the ups and downs of critics.

Thanks to the miracles of the Internet you can hear the record Andrew Porter was raving about. It is fun to listen to it and match it up against what the critic was saying.

You can also hear Pennario's own arrangement of the Kaiser-Waltz -- that is the Emperor Waltz, but Pennario always called it the Kaiser-Waltz -- that Andrew Porter praised. (Here is a video with less scratching.) This was always my favorite Strauss waltz and I am happy I was able to tell the old man that I loved that he arranged it. Those wistful, beautiful themes.

Anyway that is what I like about Andrew Porter.

It is great to see him back in the limelight!

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