If it ain't Mirga don't spin it

In his latest Spectator press release - sorry review - for John Wilson conducting the reincarnated Sinfonia of London, Richard Bratby credits the original Sinfonia with recording movie soundtracks from The Snowman to Vertigo. But he omits to mention that the Sinfonia of London and the Allegri String Quartet under Sir John Barbirolli made what is, arguably, the greatest classical recording committed to tape -  Elgar's Introduction & Allegro for strings and Serenade for Strings in E minor, and Vaughan William's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis & Fantasia on Greensleeves. Just another case of the if it ain't Mirga, Wilson, CBSO, Kanneh-Mason, or film music , don't spin it syndrome. 

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John said…
Bratby wrote the notes for Wilson's two recent collections of Eric Coates' music, also with the Sinfonia of London.
Pliable said…
John, thanks for that. I do appreciate that in these very difficult times writers as well as musicians need to earn a living. But I believe the dividing line between reviewing and promoting is becoming dangerously blurred - and not just in The Spectator - https://www.overgrownpath.com/2019/10/when-is-classical-music-review-not.html

Let's be realistic about this. In my days at EMI Ted Greenfield was the 'go to' note writer for Previn releases, and Ted was also a Guardian music critic. But there was a degree of objectivity in his Previn reviews that is totally lacking in the current John Wilson/CBSO/Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla/Sheku Kanneh-Mason reviews.

All this does music criticism a grave disfavour: because I, and I suspect many other people, no longer trust these reviews.
DLW said…
I'd be curious to know what makes that particular Barbirolli recording "arguably the greatest classical recording committed to tape." I had hoped the link was to a more detailed article or explanation, but it's just a Discogs info page. Though I've admired a number of Barbirolli recordings - especially his Mahler 5, 6, & 9 - that's very bold claim for that Elgar/Vaughan Williams album (especially considering most don't put them among the very highest rank of composers - good, perhaps very good, but decidedly second tier).
Pliable said…
Thanks for that DLW. Any ranking of 'arguably best' is, of course, highly subjective, whether referring to composers or recordings. But you make a good point about the rather bland Discogs link. So I have now wmended that link to point at this post which explains better my enthusiasm for that particular recording of Glorious John - https://www.overgrownpath.com/2009/01/label-me-obsessed.html

Incidentally, it is good to know in this age of nano-attention spans that people still follow links and take the time to comment.

mathias broucek said…
I share your concerns but I wonder if the younger generation cares? It ASSUMES that anything like this is "marketing" and is more likely to "crowd source" views from social media...
DLW said…
Thanks for the other link to your previous review. I'll have to check it out (though I wonder if a download or CD version loses some of the sonic qualities that made you love the original LP so much?

I have come to enjoy more of Elgar over the past year or so (previously I only ever really listened to or rated his Cello Concerto - and wasn't it also Barbirolli who conducted the famous du Pré recording?).
Pliable said…
Mathias, it is surprising that transparent puffery such as that Spectator 'review' and the CBSO Slipped Disc 'reviews' are written by critics. But what is more surprising and disturbibng is that the critics are not being called out for writing them.

However, as I lamented a while back, classical music's biggest problem is that no one cares - https://www.overgrownpath.com/2017/10/classical-musics-biggest-problem-is.html
Pliable said…
DLW, a piece of classical recording trivia - the test of an audio system's bass response is whether you can hear the Underground (subway) trains rumbling under the Kingsway Hall in the Elgar pieces on that recording.

Incidentally, I've said it before, but I'd be very interested to learn the details of the audio system used by Richard Bratby for that superlative review of the Respighi disc's sound. My experience is that critics don't always have acoustically perfect audio systems - https://www.overgrownpath.com/2019/08/sound-is-what-matters-most-in-classical.html
DLW said…
Well now I have to buy it, if only just to listen for those Underground trains!
Pliable said…
Why all these comments? Are blogs suddently the new Twitter? Or is there a grassroots move towards truth in classical music criticism?
concert life is so gutted that the closest thing we have is trading ideas on blogs? I mean that's how it's felt like things have been in Seattle since February for me.

Sometimes Lebrecht's lazy and vindictive reviews have their uses. I learned of a historic Ludus Tonalic recording I hadn't heard of before via Lebrecht's dismissive review of it.

Lebrecht's rants against writers can be the fastest way for me to get introduced to their work, particularly Lebrecht's over the top salvos against Ethan Hein. I've liked reading Hein's work in the last couple of years and we've traded thoughts in the last few years, He's a music educator interested in hip hop education and I'm a hobbyist classical guitarist interested in contemporary chamber and solo music but since it turns out we're both guitarists we've got a pragmatic approach to the canons and seem to enjoy reading each other's blogs ... and that's apparently thanks to Lebrecht telling his readers to NOT Hein's work. :) The irony of that is maybe a little TOO savory for me.
Pliable said…
Wenatchee, thanks for that. Your thinking is parallel to my only half tongue-in-cheek theory of intermediary dissonance. This proposes that when something is excessively hyped or denigrated there is an audience reaction that is equal or opposite.

Your exploration of Ethan Hein is one example, my returning to Paavo Jarvi's cycle of Franz Schmidt's symphonies after Lebrecht's ignorant attack is another example. My unreasonable resistance to Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and anything connected with the current City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is yet another, as is my continuing exploration of the Furtwangler discograhy prompted by Lebrecht's remorseless rants.

Treating people like children and spelling out for them in kindergaten fashion what is good and bad is insulting the very audience that the hype is meant to win over. The talent of great musicians and orchestras can speak for itself. Why are these musicians and their management party to this transparently ridiculous hyping which eventually will do more harm than good?
Pliable said…
I rather think that Christopher Morley's latest CBSO hagiography on Slipped Disc has sealed the fate of the rent-a-review industry - https://slippedisc.com/2020/11/100-years-on-orchestra-repeats-its-opening-concert/
NL wrote a short piece on a new Arvo Part disc where he opened with:

"I chucked out a bunch of new releases this week, mostly solo recitals on esoteric instruments like the harp, the mandolin and the saxophone, though also viola, voice and harpsichord, some on so-called major labels. These recitals are mostly paid for by the soloist after a label decides they are non-commercial. Knowing that people are unlikely to buy it, why would I waste valuable time reviewing and you listening about it? In these fragile times when every hour of life is doubly precious, artists need to think twice and thing again before pushing out more and more of these promotional discs. The recycle bin is overflowing."

So if the album isn't likely to sell don't review it? What happened to the role of the critic as journalist bringing attention to things readers might otherwise never hear of? If Lebrecht is willing to admit this in his first paragraph I can't feel any sympathy for his various laments that critics are no longer taken seriously.

We guitarists are living during an exciting time where sonata cycles by Brouwer and Ourkouzounov have gotten recorded in the last few years. Musicians are bringing Ferdinand Rebay's solo guitar music and chamber sonatas for guitar with woodwinds and strings into the concert scene and CD scene. Rebay's chamber music could be likened to what Hindemith did in his chamber sonata cycle but with a more Brahms/Schubert conservative sound and, yes, the Rebay sound is a conservative Austrian sound but his music is well-made and sounds good and his niece was a guitarist so there wasn't any issue of Rebay not knowing how to write properly for the instrument.

But Lebrecht's fixation on warhorses or standard conservatory ensemble stuff means that it's not likely he's listened to much Brouwer, Bogdanovic, Koshkin, Gilardino, Ourkouzounov, Borislova, Rak or other guitarist composers. There's finally a big box set of Matiegka's guitar music from Brilliant and while a lot of it is going to go in one ear and out the other for a lot of people I really like all of Matiegka's solo guitar sonatas and have been blogging through them in the last few years. But Matiegka's likely only known for a trio that Schubert turned into a quartet. ...
I noticed this same week Bryan Townsend was sharing links at his blog about scams that involve a "big break" discussed in an article at VAN



Perhaps Lebrecht's open dismissal of CDs that he's sure have no commercial value might be a public warning of a kind that a lot of CDs that are put out to potentially be on the market aren't going to get reviewed anyway because they're not commercial might give musicians who think about paying a fee to get a CD a moment of pause.

Townsend added a comment about something he observed/did years ago here.

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