Monday, May 31, 2010

Which reviews? (Cheap version)

There are 2 review sites I use for helping me make decisions about what albums to buy, and (consequently) for working out the Nereffid's Guide Awards: Classics Today and MusicWeb International. Why these and not any others? Actually the basis for that is a simple logistic one: aside from any question of whether their reviews are trustworthy, they're the two sites that combine a significant number of reviews with a decent searchability or browsability. The fact that they divide their reviews up on a month-by-month basis just made it easier for me to periodically update the old Nereffid's Guide without "losing my place".
That's one reason a site like Audiophile Audition, which simply lists all its reviews in reverse chronological order, hasn't stayed on my radar, although every so often I toy with the idea of making it an "official source". is also guilty of poor browsability, plus they need to increase their rate of reviews to persuade me to keep coming back (last one on May 11) - a pity, because they're a mostly young bunch that seem to have much to offer. is useful more as an archive than a source of new reviews, because their list of latest reviews is done on a work-by-work basis rather than disc-by-disc. But at least you can browse the reviews by composer.
There were three foreign-language sites that I used to use for the Nereffid's Guide Awards: Classics Today France, Klassik Heute, and, but really they were only there to make up the numbers - I wasn't reading the reviews, just making use of their scoring systems. And the 2 German sites are a pain in the neck to browse. But they are a good way of finding reviews of albums or labels ignored by the English-language review sites/publications.
So, Classics Today. It's hampered somewhat by the rather small number of reviewers - pick something at random, and it'll probably have David Hurwitz or David Vernier's name on it. And it doesn't review nearly as many discs as MusicWeb. And they're a little too generous with their 10/10 accolades. But that 10/10 has its own logo, which record companies are more than happy to slap on ads and CD boxes. And, importantly, it's got a very useful search function. So even though it's not a top choice among all the review sources I regularly consult, it's always a go-to site when I'm looking for older releases.
If MusicWeb International had Classics Today's search facility it would be awesome. Well, the web site generally could do with a makeover. But it covers a good range of music, and it has some very useful features, such as Tony Duggan's survey of Mahler symphonies. Some of the reviews are very thorough, occasionally with useful links to help you explore lesser-known composers, notably British ones. What comes through most obviously on MusicWeb is its reviewers' enthusiasm for what they're doing - something the site shares with Fanfare. I like, too, MusicWeb's Recordings of the Month concept - you're always guaranteed to come across an album you wouldn't otherwise have considered (I think International Record Review is trying for something similar with its Outstanding yokey, but it isn't quite as successful). But one black mark against MusicWeb is that it rarely reviews Harmonia Mundi releases. I don't know why that might be.

One other site that must be mentioned is Classical Digest, which you absolutely must visit if you're comparing recordings to decide which to buy. Basically these guys have gone through a bunch of review sources, online and print, including the Penguin Guide, and catalogued and collated all the recordings to give you an overview, or digest if you will, of the various recordings of a given work. It's not perfect, but it's very useful.

1 comment:

Robert said...

Just to say thank you. I went into Classics Today and saw a Tamberg 10/10 on BIS.
The review made it sound like he was my sort of composer so off I went to emusic where I could only find a Trumpet Concerto. 7 downloads, just what I had left until Saturday.
Interesting but the star for me was the Concerto Piccolo uber BACH by Arvo Pärt a composer I have avoided until now.
Doors open etc. etc.