Friday, January 27, 2012

Awards 2011 - What it all means

How it's made
For the 7 major review sources - as mentioned above - each disc gets a score out of 5 based on either the review's own provided score or my interpretation of the review; when MusicWeb and Fanfare provide multiple reviews of one release, I go with the best review, though the other reviews do figure in the final calculation of the overall score. The average is weighted to reflect the fact that the number of reviews varies from album to album (for my purposes, I've assumed that not being reviewed is very slightly worse than getting an average review). Then I do the same for the 3 minor sources - Klassik Heute, Audiophile Audition, and Classics Today France - all of which have a numerical score to make things easier for me (and avoid me struggling with foreign languages). And finally, bonus points go to those albums that are given a "discs-of-the-month" equivalent in the various continental magazines (obtained via their web sites) and the quarterly German Critics' Prize. Any release that was reviewed by 3 or more of the 7 major review sources goes on the long list, at which point I assign categories and eliminate anything released too late or too early. This year, the release period was from August 2010 to July 2011. There's a big lull in releases in July so it makes a natural cutoff point. Unfortunately I have to wait till January to ensure full coverage from Fanfare and ARG.

Some statistics
The long list (albums reviewed by 3 out of 7 major sources) comprised 1,542 albums and involved 7,967 different opinions. There were about 7,700 other albums not in consideration! (This is rather more than a year's worth of reviews - it stretches from September 2010 magazine issues to January 2012 issues).
The average score for an album on the long list was 4.09, which essentially means that, among releases that gain attention from several sources, the average album is a good album.
Gramophone, IRR, ARG, Fanfare, and MusicWeb each reviewed roughly 1,000-1,100 of the 1,542 long-list albums; BBC Music Mag managed nearly 700, while Classics Today covered just 388. You might wonder why the latter qualifies as a "major review source" in that case; well, record labels do like to make use of the "10/10" symbol.
78 albums were reviewed by all 7 major review sources; 7 of the 16 Award winners were.
3 albums were reviewed by all 7 major review sources plus all 3 minor sources and got at least 3 bonus accolades: Vadim Gluzman's Bruch, Pierre-Laurent Aimard's Ravel concertos album, and Gustavo Dudamel's "Tchaikovsky Shakespeare", although the latter 2 were not in contention, having each received at least one negative review (yes, from ARG in both cases!).
Some 38 albums received a top accolade from one source and a wholly negative (score of 1) review from another. In 16 cases, ARG provided the negative, while Fanfare accounted for 11. Classics Today France accounted for 8. The other sources tend not to give scores of 1.
Actually Dudamel is an interesting case. From the 7 major sources he got 8 reviews (2 in Fanfare): one 4.5, one 4, two 3s, two 2s, and two 1s. But he also got top scores from Luister and Scherzo as well as the German Critics' Prize.

The labels
Harmonia Mundi, Hyperion, and Virgin each won 2 awards.
Hyperion had an impressive 11 winners or runners-up, while Harmonia Mundi had 8. Universal (ie, Decca and DG) had 6; EMI (including Virgin) had 8; Sony had 2; Warner had 1 (on Nonesuch). Equally impressive, Hyperion appeared in 9 of the 16 categories, and Harmonia Mundi in 7. So perhaps for classical music we should redefine the term "major label".

And in conclusion
This year I made as much effort as possible to keep myself in the dark about what the final results might be. Perhaps this extra intrigue contributed to my feeling that this year's field was an impressive one. In all categories (except for Opera recital) we could produce a very convincing top 10, or 15, or even 20.
Adding the foreign-language "bonus points" proved very instructive, not just in sometimes highlighting differences or blind spots but also in sometimes providing reinforcement for my main review sources. As always, the ultimate point of the exercise is to provide some sort of quantitative impression of one person's qualitative experience of trying to find out what classical albums are really worth buying.
You should never trust a single critic, but put a bunch of 'em together and they seem to make sense.
Now go buy stuff.

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