Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A redesign of Gramophone

Back in May 2010 I posted these words:
The thing about Gramophone is, if it didn't exist, would it be necessary to invent it? Reputation aside, the answer has to be no, largely because of the existence of BBC Music Magazine, upon whose general style Gramophone has been gradually converging in recent years.
And now: a "new look" Gramophone! Obviously I am the only person in the world to have had the above thoughts, so you can thank me for single-handedly prompting the magazine's changes. All that bothers me is it took them more than a year to do exactly as I told them.
Actually it hasn't changed hugely, but Gramophone does seem to have refocused itself. Gone is the news section, which was increasingly indistinguishable from its equivalent in BBC Music Magazine, and the letters have been shoved to the back out of the way. Gone too are the columnists, which were at best a hit-and-miss business. And hurrah, "The Trial" has been adjourned; it always seemed an odd idea, that a magazine trading on its reputation for excellent reviewers would run a monthly feature highlighting the possibility that any one of them could be monstrously wrong. Unfortunately the invariably dull "My Music" remains (though hopefully it will never return to last issue's nadir, in which Beethoven fan Jon Voight moaned about how the civil rights movement was a cover for thugs and commies). The artist-related news/bumf in the front section remains, but it will be interesting to see how the features section progresses: this time, we get a decently long article on Naive's Vivaldi Edition and a reasonably substantial one on Jordi Savall. No "composers and their dogs" nonsense here.
Then come the reviews, which we are told "can run to greater length if needed", although they often seem rather too short, especially for those of us who plough through Fanfare every couple of months. And we are also informed that the "esteemed panel of reviewers are even more central", which appears to mean nothing other than the fact that the header of each review section is accompanied by some staggeringly unflattering images of a pair of reviewers. It's like the sketch artist's just come back from the trial of a paedophile ring.
Next comes "The Specialist's Guide To...", which is a good excuse to highlight some niche areas (this month, rare French operas; next month, pianist Paul Jacobs). Finally comes The Gramophone Collection, which is still the same as ever. Oh, no, not finally, there's the Musical Journeys thing and the hi-fi section. No "Tune surfing": a nation weeps.
So, is it an improvement? Yes, it's an improvement, if only in terms of Gramophone no longer being BBC Music Magazine's pompous uncle. It does feel rather different from that magazine again, and I appreciate the direction James Inverne seems to be trying to take. We'll wait and see how future issues go.

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