Sir Roger Norrington has made his name conducting classical music with a strict and sometimes controversial adherence to the performance practices that prevailed at the time the music was written. One of his favorite tools is a sound with almost no vibrato, the pulsating variation in pitch that naturally occurs in the singing voice. For years instrumentalists have mimicked that quality in their playing.
Not so fast, says Norrington. He argues that composers before the 1930s would have been appalled to hear vibrato in their music, especially orchestral music. So he asks the musicians he conducts not to use it.
Norrington has been on his lonely, no-vibrato soapbox for years, and that's seldom an issue when he performs music from the 17th and 18th centuries. But Brahms with no vibrato? Mahler, even Elgar?
He explained his stance to Minnesota Public Radio's Brian Newhouse, anticipating his appearance this weekend with the Minnesota Orchestra. He conducted a masterpiece from the 1860s, Brahms' German Requiem, sans vibrato.