No more three-star reviews

No more three-star reviews


norman lebrecht

June 10, 2016

From Lebrecht Listens, my album of the week on MusicalToronto:

Before we go any further, let me declare once and for all that I am done with three stars. Everywhere else, critics award three stars as a kind of neutral, no-harm-done mark for something they neither love nor hate. Myself, I’ve stopped reviewing that sort of thing. If it doesn’t make you want to laugh or cry (for better or worse), why steal a nanosecond of your readers’ attention by discussing it?

So no more three stars on this site.

They’d be wasted, anyway, on Cameron Carpenter. The flamboyant American organist, more used to playing in a singlet than a surplice, either makes you feel young and with-it or old and totally out of it. Much of what I’ve heard him play has the first effect on me.

Read on here… and here on OpenLettersMonthly.



  • The Cross-Eyed Pianist says:

    I agree re the star system, Norman. Especially if the stars are placed at the head of the review. Anyone seeing 3 stars or less is probably not going to bother to read the review….. (Though I suspect people read 1 and 2 star reviews with a sense of schadenfreude…..)

    • V.Lind says:

      Well, if I were Norman and read that, I would say that that is precisely why I had abandoned the stars. I write (professionally) in order to be read, and I am sure Norman does too.

      Reviewers are still subjective. So there can be lots of range within reviews.

  • Steven Holloway says:

    I pay little heed to reviews anyway — I’m certainly not deciding whether or not to purchase a disc based on one, or any number unless they come from the likes of Bryce Morrison, David Dubal, Joachim Kaiser…those whose expertise is now rare.

    This review does raise a question in a key sentence: “…Bach can, in sententious hands, sound like so much holy-moly”. Are there indeed organists whose hands pompously moralize, or at least make Bach do so? And then ‘holy-moly’. Holy-moly = Holy Mary = an exclamation reworked to protect delicate sensibilities: an exclamation, not a noun. I THINK you mean that you’d like his performances more if he struck a balance between the mundane and the transcendent. If Carpenter’s work is purely mundane, I have to think that most likely means he merely plays the notes, which suggests one star would be generous. Likewise the reviewer, for that linguistic oleo of misuse makes the point murky at best. Just btw, two Bach performances by Carpenter on YT were more than enough for me — awful registrations, awful phrasing, awful organ.

    • M2N2K says:

      He definitely is not for purists.

    • Frederick West says:

      You must have some stamina to stomach two clips of his antics. And our host is rather generous with the allotted two stars.
      I can’t take this guy seriously, the manic and pointless transcription of the Chopin revolutionary study was plain silly ( as was that utterly pointless transcription someone else made of Mahler 8, what is the point of that?!).
      I suppose it’s down to the point that an awful lot of organ music is very third rate (and I include quite a bit of Bach here, especially some very dull chorale preludes, liturgical Muzak).
      I speak as an ex organist after too many years of hearing very dull players trying to convince a comatose audience with even duller music.
      Did Rheinberger really have to compose 20 sonatas? Or the saccharine Mendelssohn Sonatas ( not a patch on his other output), Widor, Vierne,zzzzzzz

      • M2N2K says:

        You are not required to be taking “this guy seriously”. He is an antidote to “dull players” and that is what makes him valuable. He is a superb entertainer.

  • Marg says:

    I applaud the abandoning of stars. It is clear from the way a reviewer writes as to whether they think the CD/concert is top rate or so/so. We don’t need stars. I’ve been to several concerts where the audience was ecstatic with applause and demanding encores, yet the review was 4 or 4 and1/2 stars out of 5 and I’m left wondering “what the hell does the performer have to do to get 5”???

    • M2N2K says:

      Wonder no more, because the answer is obvious: in order to get maximum number of stars, performers should play or sing the way critics like it instead of the way audiences do.

  • Brian says:

    I suspect if the NY Times ever employed a star system – which they wouldn’t – every review would be 3 stars. Just sayin’.