So, per the Douglas McLennan post I discussed below, I kept thinking about his suggestion that the performances we encounter today may not be "risky" enough. The idea of "riskiness" in classical performances sort of stuck in my craw, because it seems like a pretty poor descriptor for many of the performances I find most memorable.
Clearly, "riskiness" in its most common meaning is a good criterion for certain works...no use seeing an Elektra that refuses to take any risks, right? But as a blanket expectation, it makes me think more of the best in Madonna than the best in, say, Andras Schiff. I want to leave a performance of Bach saying that it was exquisite, or shattering, or transcendental, but not necessarily "risky" which implies, to some degree, aesthetic choices deliberately designed to jar an audience, as much for the disorientation itself as for any deeper aesthetic value. Again, it certainly has its place, but I'm skeptical about it as an all-purpose artistic goal, especially when we're talking about the performance of centuries old masterpieces. Calling Vivaldi "risky", even when you have everyone onstage naked, just always sounds like desperate marketing to me.
Then I went to a concert given by the Klavier Amsterdam Trio the other night (this time at the French embassy, as opposed to the Corcoran concert reviewed here). Folks, if you're looking for a definition of risky concertizing, then I have the trio for you.
The whole affair started innocently enough, with Klara Wurtz playing a brilliant but sweet rendition of the Bach Partita No. 1. I have sort of a hard time objectively reviewing Bach beyond saying that it worked and I was in total rapture or it didn't work and I was bothered. This worked. Then Joan Berkheimer (on keys) and Nadia David (on cello) came out and did Dvorak's Sonatine Op. 100, followed by Ravel's Tzigane, with Berkheimer on violin and Wurtz back on keys. This was not the sort of performance one finds on a studio recording. Both pieces were very raw, very passionate, and totally heedless of proasic niceties like ensuring a consistently priddy sound. And both efforts were totally captivating. Berkheimer's violin in (the?) Tzigane crackled with cutting sounds of great emotion and seductiveness, juxtaposed with almost terrifying ones. Nadia David in the Sonatine sawed away at her cello with abandon, chasing, almost desperately, this really deep, rich, exciting sound she is able to produce. After the break was the main event, Dvorak's Dumky trio. Again, this was not a performance aimed at having the harmonies lock in perfect equilibrated balance, this was a performance about wringing some blood out of the thing. And blood they wrang.
Anyhow, definitely some risks being taken there, and with quite thrilling results. Still, I wonder if we benefit more from understand a performance like this as a distinctive interpretation, instead of an exercise in boundary pushing...