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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sandow's Juilliard criticism class--reactions to Hunt-Lieberson's Ombra mai fu

Greg Sandow is a critic/thinker/writer about classical music and its future. His blog can be found here.

He's just taught a Juilliard course on criticism (course syllabus is here) and one of the assignments was to review two performances of Handel's Ombra mai fu, one with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (truly a great singer and musician) and one with Renee Fleming. He reprints some of the student's comments about Hunt Lieberson, which I've copied below, along with a recording on YouTube of her performance:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9Jh7DF1nxY

But enough prelude. Here are excerpts from what the students wrote about Hunt Lieberson's recording. As I said, they all heard the same thing. But look at how wonderfully they described it:

     More simple and subtle.

     She is one of the few singers today who knows how to sing piano.

     Stunningly humble.

     Her performance is masterfully understated.

     In some inexplicable way, I am brought to peace.

     I absolutely loved the way Lieberson truly 'crept' in on her first entrance and made       such a perfectly gradated and controlled crescendo.

     Her initial entrance was remarkably quiet and captivating.

     As the aria begins, I was struck by the absolute serenity of this recording.

     In the beginning, Hunt's subtle entrance, as her soft "A" warms up the sound of the string ensemble, embodies inner strength, as if it is a reflection of things past.

     From Lieberson's first entrance I could feel the wind: a wind which always starts from nothing, but always there

     When she first enters after the introduction, it's as if she's caressing your skin slowly as she crescendos to the peak of that phrase.

Note that they didn't just agree on the general character of the performance. They all agreed that a particular moment was especially wonderful. They hear music clearly, and describe it quite wonderfully.
 Frankly, I wish I could take his course!

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