Judging by the emails offering free CDs, the major classical labels have finally realised that people buy music after reading about it here and on other leading music blogs. Elsewhere BBC Radio 3 famously offer bloggers a little bit on the side from their inexhaustible expenses account to write about their programmes, while others have received this message from Amazon:
'As a top reviewer, we would like to invite you to join Amazon Vine. Open to a limited number of customers, Vine members receive pre-release and new products--free of charge--in exchange for customer reviews'.I do not have a problem with free CDs, books or concert tickets per se and they sometimes feature here, although I do have a problem with the BBC's barely coded offer of accomodation and travel "in return for support". But would I be writing about Letting Go of the Glitz - the true story of one woman's struggle to live the simple life in Chelsea if Amazon Vine had not offered me a free copy? I think not, which is why bloggers and reviewers should tell their readers if they receive free merchandise, or, indeed, a free trip to Rome. It costs nothing to provide this information, and it does help the reader understand the context of the review. Which is why, for some time, I have been saying whether or not I paid for the CDs, books and concerts that appear here. All of which has nothing to do with having pots of money, as my bank manager will readily confirm.
If my idiosyncratic little blog has any model it is architect Richard Roger's 1976 Centre Pompidou in Paris, which, incidentally, is the home of IRCAM. The Centre Pompidou is a wonderfully functional building that has become a design icon. It achieved this by turning the traditional building inside out and putting all the services on the outside as a design feature, as can be seen from this photo.
Traditionally, the nasty bits of a building, like the power and communication cables and ventilation ducts seen above, were, and still are in many cases, hidden away behind a building's glossy public facade. Similarly, today's classical music media, with just a few exceptions, continues to present a glossy facade behind which are hidden the power sources, communication channels, and yes, the sewers, which actually drive the industry.
So welcome back to France, where my credit card took another dent recently buying the CD seen at the head and foot of this photo article. It was a chance find, together with two other very rewarding CDs, in a bookshop in La Roche-sur-Yon. Regular readers will already have seen my previous articles about the Moroccan born composer Maurice Ohana (1913-1992), and Erato's 4 CD box of his music gives an excellent overview. But, despite having a fair idea what to expect, I was quite blown away by French label Timpani's disc of his works for harpsichord.
Contemporary music champion Elisabeth Chojnacka (seen below), who also appears on the Erato recordings, is the constant on harpsichord for all the tracks. For the opening work, Miroir de Célestine, she is joined by Béatrice Daudin in a suite for harpsichord and percussion extracted from Ohana's 1987 opera Célestine. This is a real discovery, and from the evidence of the six movement suite the opera itself deserves reappraisal. In a disc that is full of delights the concluding seven minute Sarabande for harpshichord and orchestra is another revelatory discovery. The excellent accompaniment is provided by Timpani's house band of Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg under Arturo Tamayo - who conducted Stockhausen here.
Quite exceptional and vivid sound is captured in the Luxembourg Conservatoire in 2002 by the Timpani engineers. With the exception of the orchestral work the recording is quite closely miked, but there is just enough background rumble from the air-conditioning to set the music in a real space by making the services audible, if not visible. This CD is one of a series of five from Timpani of the music of Maurice Ohana. Timpani are a little-known label with some very interesting music. Their website says they will be re-packaging a 5 CD series of Xenakis' music in the autumn, also with Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg conducted by Arturo Tamayo.
With Iannis Xenakis' star in the ascendant (two works at the 2009 BBC Proms) it is difficult to understand why Maurice Ohana remains a very well kept secret. There are some parallels between the two composers and Elisabeth Chojnacka is a passionate advocate of both. While still uncompromisingly modern, Ohana's music is more accessible than Xenakis', possibly because Ohana's Sephardic Jewish background remained an influence throughout his career. This historical context gives his music the unique quality of looking both forward and back, and it may be this which makes it so approachable. For instance, the three minute So Tango on the Timpani disc is a tribute to the Argentinian master of that dance, Carlos Gardel.
So buying CDs, as opposed to accepting free review copies, does have its advantages. If I hadn't splashed out 19.70 euros on Maurice Ohana's works for harpsichord you would probably be reading just another article about Nonesuch's new release of John Adams' Doctor Atomic Symphony. Thanks Warner, but I will pass on the offer of a free Doctor Atomic CD. Watch this space instead for a piece on the Kronos Quartet's quite excepional new CD Floodplain, It's also from Warner, and was among the CDs I recently bought in France. Meanwhile, read about unlocking the music of Maurice Ohana here.
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