14 NOVEMBER 1947, Page 13


HEIFETZ playing the violin concerto and Michelangeli the Emperor have both raised in my mind the question whether such technically finished and faultlessly suave performances can represent the full intention of Beethoven. It is quite possible, at least worth consider- ing, that with our strongly moral bias in the arts we may uncon- sciously distrust flawless beauty of tone and ease of manner as things in themselves suspect. That is of course nonsense ; but are we justi- fied even in feeling—as I for one feel—that without a sense of effort, without the atmosphere of a struggle with recalcitrant material and possibly, at a much deeper level, with a hostile and evil world, Beethoven's music loses half its specific beauty and almost all its meaning? It is worth bearing in mind that much of his music was extremely difficult to perform when it was written and that to play it well was therefore a genuine achievement in the most obvious sense of the word ; but that now neither the violin nor the Emperor concerto has that element of transcendental virtuosity. I believe it is possible that technical mastery such that it removes all serious difficulties from either of these works may be a disqualification in a performer and that the humbler and less proficient player, to whom an effort is necessary, may come nearer to Beethoven's meaning. Humility is perhaps the fundamental quality ; and therewith we enter the frankly moral world which touches the artistic at every point when we come to discuss Beethoven. What is certain is that Heifetz's playing of the Tchaikovsky concerto and Michelangeli's of Mozart's in D minor were neither of them subject to the criticism which I felt applied to both when they played Beethoven.

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Don Giovanni at the Cambridge Theatre was a bold venture, for hardly any opera in the repertory is more full of problems to the producer and difficulties for the singers. Bruce Boyce was a sensi- tive and musical Don, hardly powerful enough as a singer or viva- cious enough as an actor but unfailingly pleasant to listen to—a great advantage, even if not enough to make a really good Don Giovanni. Franca Sacchi's Donna Elvira was assured in manner, but the actual quality of her voice was often unpleasantly strident and one's sympathies were rather with Don Giovanni in his dealings with her. Donna Anna is one of the most difficult roles in a difficult opera, and Rachele Ravina, though she sang well, did not quite achieve outraged dignity nor preserve the audience's interest in her situation. Her Ottavio (Murray Dickie) improved during the evening, but it is a thankless part which only an exceptionally beautiful voice can carry off. Dana Bayan sang Zerlina with feeling but without the soubrette vivacity which should distinguish the part completely from the other women in the plot. The orchestra under Alberto Erede was competent without bringing that lustre and finish to the music that Mozart imperatively demands.

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Peter Grimes at Covent Garden did much to obliterate recent unhappy memories of the Rape of Lucretia and Albert Herring. Tyrone Guthrie's production and Tanya illoiseiwitch's sets seemed to me almost ideal as background and integral part of the drama, and the orchestra under Dr. Rankl was quite up to its par, of protagonist. For it is in the orchestra and, to a slightly lesser degree, in the choral masses that the greatness of the music resides. Grimes appears from the start as too nearly mad to enlist our sympathies, and his relation- ship with Ellen Orford is little more than a theatrical convention. Compared with the other Borough characters, the sea and the storm, they are an unsubstantial couple who seem to have wandered on to the stage from some opera of fifty years ago, yearning and misunder- stood. But what stagecraft there is in the court-room scene and what sinister humour in the pub, until Grimes enters with his high falutin'