Sunday, April 27, 2008

Every note in the right place, but soul??

Should one write critical reviews of children? Won’t that damage the sensitive souls for life?

Given the hugely commercial machinery of the Vienna Boys’ choir I believe this is justified. While of course they are some neighbour’s little boys primarily they are now a money-making outfit. In any case, what I am going to say is less about the boys and more about the less than inspirational choirmaster.

It was the opening concert of the Vienna City Marathon, at 29 Euros a pop. As well it was part of the sponsorship by the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) which I had not heard about before, but it seems to be a fine organisation. This explained the presence of many African-looking gentlemen in the audience who were not built like runners.

As was to be expected, the hour-long concert was a mixture of everything, ranging from Purcell’s ‘Sound the trumpet’ (bringing back loads of memories and huge emotions – my son tells me he performed it about a dozen times at school) to Franck’s ‘Panis Angelicus’, Frank Sinatra, and, inevitably, Viennese Waltzes.

Frankly, the performance was disappointing. Yes, the notes were all there, but the inspiration was not. It was as if a northern German Protestant pathologist had taken the notes apart and reassembled them, but lost the soul in the process. ‘Sound the trumpet’ sounded messy and lacked the clarity of English cathedral voices. ‘Panic Angelicus’ was raced through and the notes dropped as if they were hot potatoes. ‘Amazing Grace’ (yes, really…) was presented as an American invention and had a dreadful piano accompaniment. South American music, Sinatra, the waltzes, all of which should go with a swing (and that can even be done without the boys moving) – it was dead and dull.

I am sure the boys are extremely musical – but it needs to be allowed out, Mr Choirmaster.