BOOK REVIEW / Odd black dots: Dermot Clinch tackles a trickier CD guide. 'The Gramophone Good CD Guide' - General Gramophone Publications, 14.95 pounds
Saturday 18 December 1993
Similar judgements have been issuing from Gramophone magazine for 70 years. Established in 1923, blue-blooded Gramophone and its 'distinguished panel of reviewers' is a feature of the classical music world, and a paragon of conservative publishing. Even a 70th birthday 'relaunch' didn't greatly alter its style. Still the title of every song in a lieder recital is listed in numbing full. Still a piece of music is matched to its performer by a series of microscopic letters and figures. And the criticism itself has none of its dogged passion and detail. In Gramophone magazine the sforzando at bar 2.2 is only rarely overlooked.
Sprung from these mighty monthly loins, the yearly CD guide ought to be a satisfying read. And it's not that it isn't in its way impressive; not that you don't quail before its scope or that you don't value and trust what you read. It's just that as a guide - a helpful, intelligent companion, moving through the options and leaving you the freedom to decide - Gramophone barely gets to work at all.
You want the Magic Flute? Get Solti. The St Matthew Passion? Get the Eliot Gardiner. The room for manoeuvre here is limited, whether you're in a shop or stuck in an armchair back home. The 250 or so words accompanying each recommendation may be exemplary ('Born the son of a cobbler . . .' etc) but only the lucky winner gets them. The competition languishes down below, mere 'additional recommendations', details alone supplied. And so the virtues of Haitink's Zauberflote or Norrington's, Beecham's and a few others' too, are left undiscussed, and the reason for their ignominy is for ever veiled.
Comparison - as listeners to Radio 3 on Saturday mornings will know - can be a painless scatterer of information and instruction. And the complex system of symbols Gramophone offers here is no compensation for its absence. Arranged on the five lines of a musical stave, a regiment of sundry black dots, pound sterling signs and crescent moons informs us which CD is one for the basic library ('discotheque de base'), which a bargain buy, which worth the epithet 'demonstration quality', and so on. Some signs are obvious. But these degenerate crotchets - where did they spring from? And this small, inky pyramid ('caveat emptor') - how did that get here? Even experienced semiologists may be caused anguished moments.
CD guides, let's face it, are for the casual reader as much as the dedicated purchase-researcher. Of course the answers are important. But, like the maths examiner, we want to see the workings first: to understand just why Jessye Norman, digitally digitalised and clearer than the real thing, gets knocked out early in the second round by reissued mono Schwarzkopf. And as for that greatest pleasure of all, the smug leaf through the book to find out how, years back, when we weren't such experts (though we're not going to admit it now) we made the right choice . . . well, Gramophone hardly deals with that one at all. And so a word of gentle comparative advice about the Gramophone Good CD Guide. Caveat emptor. And pick up a Penguin instead.
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Asteroid narrowly scrapes past Earth: how to watch the closest space rock for decades as it flies by
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
- 4 British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
- 5 Watch Richard Dawkins read his own hatemail: 'I hope you do get sodomised by satanic monkeys in hell'
Mr Selfridge series 3: Actress Kara Tointon says 'we're starting to see his demise'
Ed Sheeran texts Noel Gallagher to offer him tickets after Wembley Stadium rant
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors
Emma Watson to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
Leaked documents show Ukip leaders approve NHS privatisation once it becomes more 'acceptable to the electorate'