Friday, May 17, 2019

The End.

You're right, I haven't posted in a very long time. That's because of the usual sorts of reasons why people stop blogging. I actually started this post back in October but didn't have quite enough enthusiasm. But I have to post now, because this has just happened:
I first joined eMusic back in 2001, when legal digital downloads were young. Enticed by new and exclusive recordings from They Might Be Giants, I stayed for a year before wandering off. This was back in the dial-up days, of course. It was "all you could eat" but each bite took a very long time. Aside from those TMBG tracks I discovered (notably) John Fahey and an interest in bizarre cover versions which persists to this day (shit, I never wrote that second post about the Thanksgiving Mix, did I?). The classical selection wasn't much good - there was Koch Classics plus some minor labels - and once I felt I'd gone as far as I could, it was time to leave.
I came back in 2005 when I discovered that some of the big independent labels had arrived - Naxos, BIS, Harmonia Mundi. The next few years were a joy - great music in great bargains, an entertaining community on the forum, the rise of Nereffid's Guide... Those last two things fell apart thanks to the site's disastrous attempt to become a mainstream retailer. But the music remained, even as eMusic kept trying to reinvent itself. 
Oh man, the music. I got so many Mahler symphonies. So much Vaughan Williams. So much Handel. So much old jazz. So much early music. And more They Might Be Giants! And Mrs Nereffid, who subscribed for a few years, introduced us to so much non-classical - The Decemberists, The National, Tinariwen... Adele, for God's sake, Adele used to be on eMusic! And I discovered Gordon/Lang/Wolfe and the whole post-minimalist or whatever you call it crowd.
Back in 2009, when I started this blog, I reckoned it was only a matter of time before the plug would be pulled on the "grandfathered" account I had, which meant albums cost an average of €2. "Phew, I've kept it for another year!" I'd say when my annual subscription was paid. But it never stopped. Even now, it's still going. So why quit? 
Well, they got rid of all the frigging music, didn't they?
That was a blow, all right. Most of the classical music disappeared overnight. I looked at the wreckage and thought, "well, shit. But at least they've still got Naive". And then Naive disappeared too. Now basically it's Brilliant Classics and a handful of other not-especially-exciting labels. Time to go.
So yeah. It was a great 14 years (well, 13 and a bit before it all fell apart). Goodbye, eMusic, I'll miss y- what's that? But don't I have a second subscription that still runs until December? Well, er, yes, I do have that. But my original account, the one that says "eMusic member since 2001", is now defunct. And so, in a not strictly accurate but nevertheless very meaningful way, it is The End.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Nereffid's Best Albums of 2017

That time of year...
So I listened to 183 classical albums this year, though for many of them I didn't hear them as much as I'd have liked. As usual, my listening is geared towards works I haven't heard before. I really should change this to "Favourite Albums" rather than "Best Albums", shouldn't I?
The now-traditional 11 categories apply; a winner and 4 runners-up in each category, plus a bonus of 5 more runners-up in the Contemporary Instrumental category because there were so many contenders. (Some 39% of all the albums fall into a Contemporary category!).












As with last year, there hasn't been one particular album that's stood above all the others in terms of enjoyment. Before I pick the album of the year, a couple of special mentions: the Hans Zimmer collection really surprised me in terms of just how much I liked it; this despite an almost obnoxious overhyping by the record label ("recording event of the year... stunning... world's most exciting musicians...") of what is, after all, "only" film music - yes, I did have to overcome a wee bit of doubt as to whether the contemporary album I most enjoyed deserved to get the award! And the German vocal group Calmus Ensemble also deserves mention for its pair of Luther-inspired releases - a winner in the Medieval/Renaissance category (with, it must be said, a few modern touches here and there) and a runner-up in the Multiple Vocal.
But this year's Album of the Year is an excellent reminder to me that there's still plenty of splendid mainstream 20th-century music still be explored: Chandos's recording of Antheil's orchestral works - volume 1 it says, and if this first release is anything to go by there could be many riches in store, and in fact it prompted me to also get the CPO release that appears as a runner-up in the orchestral category.

The labels
The 60 nominees & winners were released by 36 different labels. Well done this year to Alpha, which scored a very impressive 3 winners. I was delighted to see the label return to eMusic - always the best way to ensure I'll get an album - and then equally undelighted to see it vanish again! And speaking of which, this year also sees a complete absence of Harmonia Mundi from my best-of for the first time, mostly a consequence of the label no longer being available to me through eMusic. With Hyperion and the majors I know by now I'll have to pay full price, but I haven't yet come round to thinking that way about Harmonia Mundi.

And also
What else can we note about this year's awards? The Lutheran theme was continued with Vox Luminis's winner in the Baroque Vocal category. There must have been an anniversary or something. Cecile Licad's first "Anthology of American Piano Music" volume was a runner-up last year, so it was good to see the standard remain so high. Let's also note a nice winner in the Concerto category: "Mind Music" is a charity album, which is to say that it's a fundraiser for Parkinsons UK. And finally let's observe that the Bang on a Can All-Stars have featured on a winning disc 3 times in the past 4 years. I do love them, and if I were a better blogger I'd have written about seeing them (and the JACK Quartet) at one of the Steve Reich birthday concerts in Carnegie Hall in April.
That's it
With my listening time now greatly reduced compared to previous years (a negative consequence of a positive change!) I suspect that 2018 will be the year in which I greatly cut back on new releases, and also perhaps rely more on services like Spotify to focus only on the (potential) "best of the best". It may be on a small scale, but the eternal quest to find More Great Music continues...