Saturday, May 29, 2010

Which reviews?

I was a little harsh on Gramophone in that last post. I look forward to getting it each month, as I do with the other review magazines. But then that's my thing, reading the reviews. I can no longer imagine what it would be like to rely on only one source for pointers as to which new releases I should be getting. As I've remarked before, individual critics are easy to dismiss, but collectively they're valuable. A disc getting a Gramophone Editor's Choice won't necessarily make me interested; if it also gets a rave from American Record Guide, say, then I'll take serious notice (and vice versa, of course). So I still get Gramophone, even though on one level there isn't much need to do so. Can I say the same for the other sources?
BBC Music Magazine is basically Gramophone but with fewer reviewers who remember Tito Schipa in his prime (/joke). A key difference is who exactly the magazine's pitched at; Gramophone's readers' brows are a little higher I suppose. BBCMM's not afraid to have a Composer of the Month feature, whereas Gramophone sort of assumes you know all about these composers already. Or, to put it another way, Gramophone's "Collection" feature involves a thorough going-over of every available recording, whereas BBCMM's "Building a Library" sort of assumes you don't give a monkeys about every single one and just cuts to the chase with a handful of recommendations. Or, finally, BBCMM is happy to give you a free recording of Tchaikovsky's Capriccio Italien, while Gramophone's more likely to give you an article in which 2 esteemed critics debate whether Tchaikovsky's lighter music needs special pleading ("Tchaikovsky: was he a tortured genius, or just an old poof who wrote tunes?" as the Pythons had it). BBCMM's reviews are a bit shorter than Gramophone's, and I get the impression (not empirically tested) that the former are more inclined to be dismissive of a disc - although this might be just a consequence of BBCMM reviewers being obliged to give marks out of 5. Two stars is a starker condemnation than "overall, the bad outweighs the good".
But wait a second, I've previously remarked about how Gramophone's reviews are not as long as they used to be, and now here's BBCMM with even shorter reviews. What to do?! This is where International Record Review comes in. This is "for the serious classical collector" and is aimed directly at people who think Gramophone's gone to the dogs. There's pretty much nothing but reviews, aside from the occasional obituary, maybe some letters, and the last-page feature "Too many records". There aren't many pictures or ads either. In other words, they waste hardly any space. The "International" is something of a misnomer though; it has a British feel and focus. And I've mentioned before how their "Outstanding" accolade seems arbitrarily applied (or I should say, arbitrarily not applied). But this is the UK publication you need if you want reviews.

But how does IRR compare with the American magazines? Find out in the next thrilling episode!

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