What is the function of the critic: Part MCMLXXIV; also, Sentence of the Week!
The critic's job in reviewing a concert depends on several factors. An important one, of course, is the program under consideration.
In reviewing new(er) music, the reviewer often describes the music for the reader, since the chances that the music has been encountered before are small. For more well-known works, the performance can be compared to other performances of the same piece, and so forth.
There is, though, a middle ground; less-familiar works by known composers, for instance. In this case, the reviewer will often critique the performance and the work itself somewhat independently.
Here today to illustrate is Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News. The Dallas SO recently held a Latino Festival Concert, the Latin-ness of which was somewhat suspect. It's a good article, with genuine concerns, and I encourage you to read it.
Some of the works on the program were construed (probably correctly) as being showpieces for the featured performers. This is well and good, but I suppose there are limits to Mr. Cantrell's tolerance of fluffy, virtuosic display pieces with little musical substance:
Guarnieri's Dansa brasileira was a cheerfully chugging overture, and Gismonti's two-guitars-and-orchestra Sete Aneis, performed with the Brasil Guitar Duo (João Luiz and Douglas Lora), suggested some influence from minimalism. Neither of these impressed as deathless art, but each was pleasant enough.
This seems to sum it up pretty nicely. But then:
Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Concerto for Two Guitars was pretty inane, with dippy themes elaborated with all the imagination of an undergraduate composition student.
Wow. That is an awesome sentence.
I have just invented a new, meaningless award; I think I shall call it the Sentence of the Week! award.
Today, the inaugural Sentence of the Week! award goes to Scott Cantrell. Not the least of the accomplishments of this sentence is evoking the banality of the music (inane; dippy) combined with an icily clever dismissal of its inventive quality.
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968)
Castelnuovo-Tedesco was an Italian composer who was not very good at writing faux-Spanish guitar concerto showpieces. Or, at least, that's what I think I learned this week.
These festival programs attract lots of people who don't ordinarily attend symphony concerts. But the absence of at least brief program notes, even movement markings on the program page, suggests the DSO considers these second-class concerts. That's tacky.
Yes, yes it is. Boo, Dallas Symphony. Boo to you.