Peter Charles


May 5, 2012 02:45


Why is it that I have a certain dislike, maybe almost a disdain for Historically Informed Performance Practice? Before it became gradually mainstream from the 1970’s I never even thought about it.

But now we are assailed by recordings of this performance style on radio and TV - and even some “normal” performers are being “polluted” by some of its techniques. We can’t seem to escape from the fact that it is pervading our lives.
So what is it that I do not like?

Listening to HIPP makes me feel depressed because it is usually a very dead, and in my opinion I hasten to add, miserable sound, and it kind of levels off the dynamics. Also the phrasing, especially in slow music leads to surges and pear shaped notes from string players (is this the influence of the period bow?) The sound, with its lack of vibrato – or very sparing vibrato – is very dead. It does work in very fast music – but it often requires the boosted sound of the recording media, and in real life live scenarios it often then fails due to lack of any punch.

I had better not mention the situation where the performers’ intonation is often rather approximate.

The non use of vibrato in the right place and for the right reasons is of course not new, and groups like the old Borodin String Quartet used it effectively in the Shostakovich recordings in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was used as a means of contrast for certain fairly short sections of the great string quartets of Shostakovich and others.

Do feel free to disagree with my opinions – but if I felt that there were any worthwhile ideas to be gained from HIPP then I would be only too keen to benefit. Perhaps one area where we can usefully be influenced by HIP performances is in the use of short notes – as long as not taken to ridiculous extremes.

Can anyone point to areas of HIPP that may make me feel a bit more positive towards it?

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