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