The Critic's Paradox (Epitaph)

Here’s an example of what I have come to see as the critic's paradox.

With its mix of vigor, wit and stark introspection, Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor can handle a variety of approaches.

No shit, Sherlock! In fact, I would posit that, aside from tape pieces (just as an easy example), music is indeed amenable to interpretation by performers—this is what performers do: they interpret.

But, the preceding is just an empty, poetic smokescreen acting as a transition toward:

...there should be surely be [sic] more edge beyond an uncomplicated bonhomie.

“Surely” surely is the equivalent of screaming louder to sound smart. “Should be” should be axed. Is this a critique of pianist Emanuel Ax’s interpretation? Or is it the author’s personal preference, stated without an attempt to understand why Ax is playing the piece in a particular manner?

If the latter, then the author is disallowing Ax an interpretive voice. In other words, “Ax is just doing it wrong.” Therefore, he couldn’t possibly have anything worthwhile to say.

And if you want some complicated bonhomie, I suggest dating your editor.

This lack was most palpable in the Largo -- arguably, Beethoven's most beautiful concerto slow movement -- where after a rushed phrasing of the yielding main theme, the soloist seemed content to glide on the music's graceful surface without exploring its expressive depths. [no explanation follows]

1) Who argues which Beethoven concerto slow movement is the most beautiful? That’s lame and not worth my time.

2) How would the author know if Ax was trying to explore “its expressive depths” if he doesn’t allow him an interpretive voice, if there’s a better, not different, way to do things?

Just saying. This sounds like it was written by a stodgy, old curmudgeon, unwilling to open his mind to new, different possibilities.

On the other hand, to critique is to have a bias. Enter paradox.


Empiricus said...

Okay, fine...

Can one critique without sounding unprepared ? I think, yes, one can. But substantiantion, preparedness, appropriate vocabulary is paramount. Thoughts?