Describing the Countertenor Voice, Ctd



The other day a CD review came out in the New York Times (NYT) that surprised me in two ways.

First off, it was an early music recording, an area that rarely gets covered by the NYT (concerts are another matter altogether). Popular music reviews, on the other hand, dominate for good reason, that’s were the money and internet traffic are.

The recording in question was Andreas Scholl‘s new all-Purcell program of songs and arias (with fellow countertenor Christoph Dumaux) on the Decca label. Reviewer Vivien Schweitzer gave the performance very good marks, and rightfully so. Scholl is known for only putting out a high-quality product.

Yet I was taken aback by the headline, “Andreas Scholl and Christoph Dumaux Play Purcell.”

Which brings me to a second point.

As you can see from the image above (a screenshot of part of the review), the headline clearly states that two countertenors (singers, if you will) are playing Purcell.

Yes, it’s a mistake alright, one that has yet to be corrected (in spite of my direct tweet to @nytimesmusic pointing it out).

It’s not that big of a deal, really, but it reminds me that there are a least two different entities involved in producing the review: (1) Schweitzer, whose depth of understanding would never allow such an error lest it compromise her authority, and (2) the department in charge of creating headlines, which apparently doesn’t know the difference between “sing” and “play,” or the type of musician which either verb corresponds to.

Read more: Andreas Scholl and Christophe Dumaux Play Purcell (New York Times)

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  • Purcellian.

    Aren’t you taking this too literally? I read it as “play ‘with’ Purcell”…or to “play-up” Purcell, or a “play on Purcell”, supported by the review that talks about the disc being an example of possibly outrageous gender-bending (Dido’s lament) etc etc, it’s a little ‘different”, they’re “playing” with our expectations. And also listening to the disc, the nature of the accompanying players is perhaps regarded as a little different from the norm – i.e. bassoon and lute for ‘Sound the Trumpet” rather than the expected harpsichord. Just a thought.

  • I did think about the possibility that the NYT intended “play with Purcell,” but their headlines tend to be very literal, very straightforward. There’s quite a bit of dashed expectation with the CD’s program, lots of alternative repertoire you might not otherwise hear a countertenor sing (Dido’s Lament being one). You certainly have point, yet the headline strikes me more as the odd mistake for the NYT.