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[ARSCLIST] Long reply on critics' listening (was Re: [ARSCLIST] Plus Deck)
Karl Miller wrote:
You raise a notion which I find to be quite curious. I find it interesting
how we can mentally edit a recording when we know the music. It seems that
critics are less critical of sound quality when it comes to historic
recordings of standard repertoire than those of less familiar repertoire.
I wonder if knowledge of the music makes it easier to listen beyond the
limitations of the recording when one knows the repertoire.
All too often, the ear fills in what is expected whether it is present
or not. I do some reviewing, originally for myself in a file of Opera on
Video at my WWW site, now for http://www.operajaponica.org/ . On
occasion, I am asked how I could have missed an obvious fault or I am
startled on re-hearing to find something out of place. The first time
through, my mind supplied the right passage when the wrong one was on
I've had confirmation that I'm not unique in that experience. I debated
with two friends after a performance whether two lines had been reversed
in a live performance we had heard of an opera. They insisted that the
aria was delivered superbly - with which I agreed but insisted that the
bass had transposed the lines. One of my friends had recorded the
performance. After replaying it, he sent me a copy proving that I had
heard correctly while they had heard what was intended.
As for older recordings inducing 'wishful hearing' more than newer ones,
I find that unsurprising. One must listen more intently through reduced
frequency response, less clarity and greater noise to hear the
subtleties. Determining that the second contrabassoon missed its entry
demands concentration which may obviate appreciating the overall sound.
As for the sound quality itself, one is tempted to pass off the
limitations as the best one can hope for from that era. After all,
'everyone' knows the Beethoven Fifth so we listen for the overall shape
and the particular flavor of that conductor in that performance. But we
may well not know Rubbra's Second at all, hence fight to hear detail and
wonder whether it is accurate.