Music on Radio: The age of innocence;
Friday 09 August 1996
Meanwhile, we have at least a little something-of-the-sort in the "blind tasting" section of Off the Record. This magazine series, introduced by Robert Cowan and produced by Martin Cotton, is part of the revamped Radio 3 Saturday morning schedule, while such regulars as Record Review and Private Passions are taking their eight-week summer break. Since Record Review inevitably preoccupies itself with matters of repertoire, interpretation and recording quality, it was certainly high time another series delved into the techniques, economics and politics of the mighty record industry which, it did not need Norman Lebrecht to remind us, directly or indirectly conditions the musical life of us all.
In the event, and despite some nifty linkmanship from Cowan, it rapidly became apparent in last Saturday's edition that the salient problem for Off the Record is likely to remain the raising of too many major issues at once for any of them to be discussed in detail. True, certain concerns are being carried through the series: each programme opens with a Feedback- style selection of listeners' views (de rigueur in any BBC magazine series these days, it seems), and includes a featurette on a specific recording venue and a successive stage in the making of a CD. Last Saturday also included items on the current state of the smaller independent record companies and why a hard core still collect LPs and 78s. And just to stir the pot of technico-aesthetic opinion, there was Cowan's studio guest Paul Myers, CBS producer of some of the most celebrated recordings by Georg Szell and Glenn Gould. When he said that a recorded performance needs to be slightly exaggerated to compensate for the fact that the performers cannot be seen, or that he disliked some of the CD reissues of his LP recordings because they had been remixed by others, positively philosophical dilemmas loomed: are records really performances at all or documents; and whose sound, finally, do they represent?
The blind tasting itself was necessarily confined to matters of interpretation and sound. Anthony Payne was asked to comment upon three recordings of Mozart's Piano Concerto No 21 in C, K467, without knowing who the performers were. In the event, he was pretty dismissive of what proved to be the Geza Anda version used in the soundtrack of Elvira Madigan, preferring a reading played and conducted by Howard Shelley with the London Mozart Players for its "bright and alive address to the structure". It was at this point that Myers launched his naughtiest squib. "Do we," he asked, "seek too much depth in Mozart's concertos, which were, after all, composed as entertainment?" Thus an entire revolution in taste since the last war was called into question. A bit much to resolve in the last couple of minutes of Off the Record. Yet the programme surely has potential enough to become regular; if not once a week, at least monthly.
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