I recently attended a performance by a fine young German string quartet. They took 'senza vibrato' farther than I'm used to (and did an impressive job of it.) While I'm fairly sure they would say they played this way for historical reasons (performance practice pre-20th Century), I was left wondering if there weren't subconsciously a more modern influence: computerized sounds. They played with a high degree of accuracy both in intonation and ensemble, and long chords held this way senza vibrato sounded very much like how a synthesizer might execute them.
Could it be that after years of trying to get synthesizers to copy human sounds, now in an era so inundated by computers, some of us (to an extent anyway) are trying to copy the clean accuracy of synthesizers? As in earlier eras, the model for string playing is still the human voice, just now it's an autotuned human voice with all of the imperfections spliced out.
It's popular to say that music is universal, and maybe broadly speaking it is, but when it comes down to the finer details, I think it's quite cultural and specific to a certain time in history. Personalization, historical fidelity, phrasing/musical message, consistency of intonation, tone---- I can think of different people who would rank these categories in very different orders, and I can even think of people who would exclude some of them nearly entirely. (Historical fidelity and personalization can certainly be at odds!)
I've even heard it said that "X's tone is kind of scratchy and the intonation isn't great, but what phrasing!" That wouldn't fly in today's orchestra world, but... so what? Even among Classical soloists, some people prefer risk takers, and once we're listening to recordings from earlier eras, it's clear that smaller blips were more tolerated, and a more personalized sound was expected.
Once we've left the realm of Classical music entirely, certainly the intonation of some Klezmer and Bluegrass recordings isn't faultless--- but their listeners weren't such perfectionists on that count (while in other categories they had pickier standards. Don't forget that not so many modern orchestral players improvise!)
If you spend all day trying to perfect your own playing in one way or another, it can be hard to turn that off to listen to someone else's, which might excel in something different. However it can really be worth it. I enjoyed the quartet's performances quite a bit. As I'm older than they are and from a different continent, I don't strive to play that way myself. It's not the sound I have in my ear so to speak, but it was clearly well done. And while I've speculated about some of the true influences behind their playing, there's no doubt that they put the music across in at times quite dramatic and impactful ways.Tweet
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