Exclusive: To be, or not to be…?

Exclusive: To be, or not to be…?


norman lebrecht

July 27, 2018

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

There’s a debate going on among agents as to whether it is better for an artist to have an exclusive record contract or to work across several labels. Alisa Weilerstein, who has made outstanding recordings of the Elgar, Dvorak and Shostakovich concertos for Decca, has now popped up on a Dutch label with the two Haydn concertos and Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night. Pentatone is a terrific label, run by former Philips professionals. This ought to be a top-drawer recommendation. Why it isn’t is a matter of some perplexity….

Read on here.

And here.


  • Olassus says:

    She’s no good.

    • MacroV says:

      She’s very good.

      But what does this review have to do with being exclusive (or not) to one label? Is Mr. Lebrecht suggesting some cause and effect? Exclusivity is more of a marketing/branding issue.

    • Bruce says:

      LOL. Yes, you can tell how bad she is by how well her career is going. She must be pretty terrible 😛

      • Olassus says:

        I can “tell how bad she is” from her playing: there are probably 200 cellists around with more insight and eloquence, not to say grip on life.

        • Bruce says:

          Oh well.

          • Olassus says:

            Instead of commenting on everyone else’s comments, why don’t you generate your own thoughts and express them?

            For instance, what is Bruce’s take on Alisa Weilerstein from the live performances he has heard? If she merits a recording contract, unlike so many other players, why?

          • Bruce says:

            Since you asked:

            The first time she played with my orchestra, she played the Elgar as a teenager (15-16 years ago I guess). I heard a few things that have remained constant over the two other times she has played with us (Shostakovich #2 and Dvorak).

            I don’t have any of her recordings. These opinions are all based on live performances (sitting behind her onstage, then listening to the broadcast local public radio afterward).

            • A fairly intense vibrato at baseline, meaning it’s a characteristic of her sound, not something she deploys as a mannerism (think Gundula Janowitz or Frederica von Stade, or Edith Piaf for that matter: distinctive but not artificial, although it would sound fake as hell if someone tried to imitate it)
            • A pretty high-energy sound. It doesn’t seem like she ever just puts the bow to the string and whatever sound comes out, comes out – she’s always got a plan for what every note is going to say.
            • Technique that is utterly secure without being showy (in spite of all the hair-tossing). Whatever comes along in the music, she plays it in tune without it coming across as a big deal.
            • She emotes a lot. Sitting behind her, I don’t see if she makes faces, but with all the hair-tossing I can’t imagine that she doesn’t. (As a flute player, I have to say she’s very easy to follow in the duet sections of the Dvorak concerto: the conductor may or may not be much help, but you can just watch her hair and, even if you can’t hear her well, whatever she’s doing is very clear 😀 ) She does tend to pack a lot of emotion into whatever she plays. She doesn’t do a lot of romantic slides & portamenti, which is nice: those get old pretty quickly. She tends to make her emotional point by varying her dynamics, tone color and vibrato. She does pull rhythms around a bit, but what I hear is someone putting emphasis on [what they see as] important inflection points, not “I’m going to show you all the things I can do, and also treat you, you lucky people, to a few more seconds of my glorious sound on this high note. How do you like my hair?”
            • There is that funny-looking bow grip. I can’t imagine anyone teaching her that. I can imagine teacher after teacher scrutinizing that right hand & arm, checking to make sure she can do all the necessary things with it, and saying with a shrug: “well, it seems to be working.” (Would anyone have taught Rampal that he must hold the flute at a slant and play with a lopsided embouchure? IMHO more damage than good has come from teachers being doctrinaire about mechanics. What if Perlman’s teacher(s) had insisted that, with those giant mitts of his, he must not allow the left thumb to come up over the neck? But anyway — )

            All these things could create a problem for some listeners (or viewers). The sound doesn’t change enough; the vibrato doesn’t change enough; the level of emotional intensity is too relentless. Well, you could say the same things about Heifetz.

            Be someone ever so musically discriminating, an artist’s style always comes down to personal taste — their own, as well as that of their audience. I’m sure there are many people who don’t think much of Alisa Weilerstein’s playing; clearly there are also many who do. Is everybody on one side or the other wrong?

            (A partial explanation of how I got like this: My first flute teacher, a highly discriminating musician — married to a violinist and mother of a cellist — insisted that her students listen to great artists of all instruments. She made no bones about the fact that Tebaldi’s singing left her cold, and she found Rostropovich’s cello playing offensive, possibly because of her pro-Fournier bias (her daughter studied with Fournier). She loved Piatigorsky. Heifetz was never mentioned one way or the other, except as an example of a true work ethic, but Milstein and Grumiaux were names to conjure with. I learned from her to listen for myself, not to be brainwashed by the opinions of others. She didn’t have a problem with me liking Tebaldi or even, after a while, Rostropovich. As strongly as she held her opinions, she didn’t insist that others must hold them too. I think I learned from that.)

          • Olassus says:

            Much appreciated.

  • Jane Parsons says:

    She is a brilliant cellist and has a huge repertoire. Listen to her Kodaly. I don’t understand why so many of you are saying hateful comments.

    • Rgiarola says:

      I cannot see any “hatefull comment”. To suffer criticism is part of an artist career, or any other professional in any area. It is not hate, it is just a matter of disagreement with the perspectives about something the critical one is supposed to know well. What would be the color blue, if everyone only like the red?

      • Jane Parsons says:

        It’s not constructive criticism. It’s jealousy. It all depends on the wording and context.

        • Rgiarola says:

          It’s not an answer, but a cliche already old here. You must admire or want to be the person, before jealousy can happens. In this case I would be jealous about a serious artist that made or still make difference in classical music such Abbado, Wand, Tennsted, Kleiber, Muti, Haitink and even Neguet-Seguin among others. No one feel it about someone that does not mean any good thing as artist. Your answer is too personal, nothing besides “argumentum ad hominem” the lowest level possible of dialectic
          You can like him, but you must respect any other opinion about a public person without disregarding the person, just because he does not believe in your pet. Tge reality about the over hypeness around him since more than 10 years ago is a fact, an evem people that like him also believe that the backlash is not without reason. Unless you had not been following the “Messyah” in fact

    • Bruce says:

      I agree with both Jane and Rgiarola. I don’t see the comments as “hateful” necessarily, but people often seem to be unnecessarily close-minded.

      Often I have observed that people’s opinions of how a piece (or an instrument) should be played are formed by whoever they heard first; and then they are opponents of any different approach. If you “learned” the Kodaly by listening to Starker, then Weilerstein is bad. If you “learned” the Brahms violin concerto from Heifetz, then anyone else probably comes up short. And so on.

      I think most artists who actually make it somewhere in their careers understand this. You’re always in competition, or at least in comparison, with people whose skill levels are similar to yours but whose approaches are different. Is Cello Competition X going to be won by the next Fournier, or the next Piatigorsky?
      Is Piano Competition Y going to be won by the next Lupu or the next Argerich?

      It is possible not to be a big fan of someone’s playing while still respecting what they do.

      • Jane Parsons says:

        Thanks Bruce! Words of reason in an absurd storm of ignorant comments. People don’t always give thought to how they write.

      • Rgiarola says:

        Exactly. When someone stops answering about the subject he/she disagree, but start to attack the person that proposed the subject specially when it is a unkwon person , It’s means just one thing! There isn’t a answer, so let’s try to break the credibility of the opiner at any cost. At the end, this attitude that really doesn’t have any credibility.
        Maturity means capability to live together with opposite believes, or been able to contradict this believe in a rational way.
        Maturity is my key complain about the Pet I was criticizing, now as much as he’s followers as well

  • CounterTenor says:

    It seems strange to pick out as an ‘Album of the Week’ something that fails to engage or inspire you. Is there such a dearth of decent recordings released that you choose to highlight a disc you would not recommend?
    Nothing wrong with feeling as you do about the CD (which I have not heard), but a strange choice not to encourage people positively.

  • boringfileclerk says:

    I’ve never been a fan of her playing, but I wouldn’t characterize it as awful. The tempi in the Haydn sounded find to me, but it wasn’t consistent throughout. Her choice of ensemble probably didn’t help her.

    What probably did, or will annoy most is her overly romantic approach. 40 years ago, this album would have gotten rave reviews, but this style of playing is no longer in fashion. I think that Itzhak Perlman is the only one who can still get away playing like this. She comes from a long line of musicians, and this is what she knows. Take it for what it is. Her recording of the Carter concerto a few years back is still my favorite after Fred Sherry’s.