Monday, January 4, 2010

Mecum omnes plangite!

End of the decade? Pah! scoffed the BBC. And so they commissioned PPL to compile a list of the most-played classical recordings of the last 75 years. I really don't know what to make of it. Here's the top 10:
Orff - O Fortuna (Kurt Eichhorn)
Vaughan Williams
- Fantasia On A Theme By Thomas Tallis (Bernard Haitink)
- Scheherazade (Charles Mackerras)
- The Sleeping Beauty (Mikhail Pletnev)
Schumann - Romance In F Sharp Major Op 28/2 (Joseph Cooper)
- Sylvia (Richard Bonynge)
- Symphony No 2 (Vladimir Ashkenazy)
- The Planets (James Loughran)
- The Sleeping Beauty (Valery Gergiev)
Schubert - Symphony No 5 (Neville Marriner)
Now, this is a list of specific recordings rather than specific pieces; as the BBC press release says, there were several pieces that showed up more than once but in different recordings - for example, there were 4 recordings of The Planets in the list of 30. And seeing as the list covers music played in "all public places" then presumably the most-performed recordings reflect to some extent certain licensing deals. So I don't know what, if any, conclusions can really be drawn from the list.
One odd thing that strikes me is Schumann's Romance op.28/2. I admit I had no clue what the piece was when I saw it on the list. Surely if there's going to be a Schumann piano piece in the top 10 it would be "Traumerei"? Well, certainly "Traumerei" has more recordings: 226 on ArkivMusic, plus another 97 of the full Kinderszenen. But then that would also mean that the Romance, with only 33 recordings, plus another 10 of the full set of three, stands a better chance of having a higher representation by one particular recording. I guess. See what I mean about not being able to draw conclusions? Also, the Symphony no.5 isn't necessarily the Schubert piece you might expect.
A related question about this piece is, who the hell is Joseph Cooper? None of the recordings of that piece listed on ArkivMusic is his. His Wikipedia entry reveals that he "made a number of successful recordings" and was host of the BBC TV show Face the Music. Before my time, I'm afraid - but we can watch it on YouTube - with William Walton as the guest, with a jolly anecdote about Boult and Diaghilev. Jesus! Can you imagine such a program being commissioned these days? Well, there was a revival in 2007, on BBC Four. I think I saw the single episode; it was hosted by John Sergeant, who's not particularly famous for his musical (or, indeed, dancing) skills. Who'd be Walton's equivalent these days, though? Harrison Birtwistle? Peter Maxwell Davies?
From Wikipedia also I learn that Robin Ray, a regular on Face the Music and also host of Call My Bluff, was responsible for devising Classic FM's original playlist. This prompts sad thoughts about computer-generated scheduling, and now I seem to find myself in an o tempora, o mores sort of mood, which inevitably leads me back to Orff's "O Fortuna":
Hac in hora
sine mora
cordum pulsum tangite;
quod per soterm
sternit fortem
mecum omnes plangite!

Look it up.

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