Saturday, October 10, 2009

Classic CD, issue 23

So we're going back now to early 1992. I hadn't been seriously listening to classical music for very long at that stage, only a few years. The first classical magazine I bought was Classic CD, issue 23 (which I think had a cover date of March 1992; in a big clearout maybe 10 years ago I got rid of my old magazines, ripping out some articles to keep and also holding on to the CDs, obviously). I can't remember why I decided to buy it. Nigel Kennedy was on the cover, and I know that wasn't the reason. Actually what I want to talk about here is the cover CD. Here's the track listing:
1. Saint-Saens: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (Vengerov, Mehta)
2. Debussy: Pelleas et Melisande - Act 1 Interlude & Scene 3 (Abbado)
3. Busoni: Seven Elegies - Berceuse (Wolosoff)
4. Tavener: The Protecting Veil - first section (Isserlis, Rozhdestvensky)
5. Kraus: Soliman II - Act 2, Elmire's Dance; Duet (Royal Opera of Sweden/Brunelle)
6. Tchaikovsky: Violin concerto - 1st mvt, begininng (Kennedy, Kamu)
7. Faure: Les roses d'Ispahan (Ameling, Baldwin)
8. Schmidt: Symphony no.3 - 2nd mvt (Jarvi)
9. Nyman: Six Celan Songs - "Chanson einer Dame im Schatten" (Lemper, Michael Nyman Band)
10. Schubert: Symphony no.9 - 1st mvt (Wand)

That's a pretty good list, isn't it? Some big names in there, artist-wise, and with the music an intriguing mix of the familiar and more obscure. Significantly, there's only one piece less than 5 minutes long (the Faure song), and the Schubert approaches 14. I instantly fell in love with 4 of the tracks - the Busoni, Tavener, Schmidt, and Nyman. At that stage in my classical exploration, it was a fantastic exposure to new sounds. Despite that great start, I didn't get another Classic CD for about a year - not sure why that was, either, but it was a feature on Mahler's Tenth that drew me back - and then I started collecting it for several years. But that first one was always the high point. I got a handful of Gramophones in that period too, but I wasn't ready for its focus on recordings, and I also sporadically got BBC Music Magazine specifically for the cover disc. One particularly memorable Gramophone cover disc was one they brought out before the 1994 Awards, which highlighted some of the lesser-known music among the nominees.

Look at this month's Gramophone cover disc, though. They used to do a separate one for the Awards, but that hasn't happened for a while. As with the last couple of years, this year they've crammed as many award winners as they can onto the disc with the Editor's Choice tracks, plus the Collection, plus the competition. 32 tracks in 80 minutes. Only one track gets past 5 minutes - Zadok the Priest, if you must know - and 9 others (10 if you include the competition) get past 3. Is this an industry thing, or Gramophone's decision, I wonder? Either way, I don't know that it does the music any favours. Can you be smitten by a 2'21" excerpt from Gotterdammerung? Or a 49-second Britten song, no matter how previously-undiscovered it may be? Well, yes, you can be smitten, but not to anything like the same degree as a 5- or 8- or 10-minute sample that completely pulls you into another world. Right now I'm listening to that Schmidt track from 1992, and it's gone past 3 minutes and I know that part of its appeal at this very second is that there's still 4 minutes left. I fell in love with the whole movement, not just a bit of it; I might not have loved it if it had faded away after two and a half minutes. Or the Tavener - an 8'16" sample allowed me to hear not just the gorgeous opening, but also the part where the strings imitate the sound of bells. That gorgeous opening would be less gorgeous if, just as you're settling in, it's suddenly replaced by the happy turquerie of Soliman II. And so on.

And it's not just nostalgia, or "fings ain't wot they used to be" as Nige might have said back in '92. Earlier this year I bought an issue of Diapason while on holiday in Lisbon (I know! Foreign-language squared!), and its cover disc had 13 tracks and I instantly fell in love with 2 of them - all 10 minutes of Soler's Fandango played by Andreas Staier and a piece by Albinoni. So the French at least still know how to do a cover disc.

So I say: come on, Gramophone! Less is more. Give us 40 or 50 or 60 minutes of the Editor's Choice, throw in a good Collection excerpt and a couple of tracks tied in to whatever features are in that issue, and that'll do.

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