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THE PENGUIN GUIDE TO COMPACT DISCS & DVDs 2003/4 Edition:
The Key Classical recordings on CD, DVD & SACD

2004 Edition
Edited by Ivan March
Reviews by: Ivan March; Edward Greenfield; Robert Layton
Assistant Editor: Paul Czajkowski
Paperback
1566 pp.
ISBN 0141013842
£24.99


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The Penguin Guide is something of an institution. The series began when 'dinosaurs stalked the earth' during the era of the LP. It branched out and spawned guides to bargain LPs then cassettes then an edition that bracketed LPs and CDs and then made the transition to CD only. The early editions, found secondhand, are still useful references and make better reading than Gramophone or Schwann catalogues.
The value of these chunky volumes has only been compromised by the publisher's coyness about the date of publication. Many editions carry no year in the title nor in the publication data page. This hereditary lacuna was cast aside for the 2002 edition of the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs which I reviewed here in November 2001. The subtitle then was 'The Guide to Excellence in Recorded Classical Music'. That subtitle has disappeared now and the 'Pengun Guide to Compact Discs and DVDs 2003/4' is subtitled 'The Key Classical Recordings on CD, DVD & SACD'.
While the CD is in the indubitable ascendant the 2002 edition DVD reviews allocated an anhang type ghetto of 15 pages at the very back. The DVD's complementary rise to prominence is acknowledged now with an appreciative boost in the introduction. The place of the DVD is recognised in the title of the 2004 edition, is announced at page ix and now reflected in the fact that DVDs are reviewed alongside CDs in each composer entry.
On the title page for the first time a new name joins that of the triumvirate of March, Greenfield and Layton. This is assistant editor Paul Czajkowski. Mr Czajkowski was mentioned in the 2002 Edition but not on the front page. Also for some reason the last edition has his surname as Chaikowsky.
Instant impressions about the new edition. Its look and feel, first. A big and burly paperback. Same number of pages as the 2002 guide - odd that - exactly 1566 numbered pages. The paper stock is slightly more substantial and more white than cream. Reviews are still in double snaking columns. The experience of reading the book is a good one with no feeling of crowding of text although better use of the page size has been made when compared with the 2002 version.
While it sports the subtitle 'The Key Classical Recordings' it is more than that. A new key symbol appears alongside the rosettes and stars. This symbol against a specific review denotes a recommendation that this disc might form the basis of a personal collection. Refreshingly enough Ivan March on p.ix is far from magisterial about the selections stressing that these are for guidance only, He encourages the listener to make choices according to personal inclinations.
What is especially pleasing is that the list of key recordings on pp 1525-1566 includes repertoire outside the received wisdom of the great and the good. Here you will find Alwyn, Bowen, Creston, Frankel, Koechlin, Kokkonen, Lambert, Lilburn, Miaskovsky, Schuman, Tubin and Zemlinsky. Well done!
The book makes no illusory claims about coverage. It does not say that it is comprehensive - how could it be? Any knowledgeable reader will however want to take the team to task for exclusions and, who knows, for the odd inclusion as well. There are some regrettable omissions.
Take Shostakovich. Why is the Barshai set on Brilliant Classics not there? This series is at cheap as chips prices and its omission is a serious disservice.
While Naxos quite correctly gets its meed of mention it is interesting that Brilliant Classics gets hardly a single look in. Brilliant's Mozart piano concertos (Han) are not mentioned neither are the symphonies. Yet the Adam Fischer's complete Haydn symphonies on Brilliant are mentioned and rosetted ... as well they might. Do these appear only because they were mentioned in their individual box groupings when issued by Nimbus? By the way, the reappearance of Nimbus is welcomed by Greenfield in the foreword.
Poor old Sousa who had seven entries in 2002 has disappeared from sight and with him has gone one of the distinctive recommendations of that 2002 edition: the Walking Frog boxed set of the complete marches along with the three CD set of historical recordings of marches from Crystal
The Tjeknavorian entry recognises and reviews thoroughly the ASV recording of his Piano Concerto but how about a review of the seven CD set from LDR of his principal orchestral works including the two symphonies and the ballet Simorgh?
Why was there no room for the Boult RVW symphonies - either the 8CD EMI set or the Decca British Collection set. They should have been mentioned especially the Decca mono cycle given its inclusion of the Everest originated ninth symphony.
Glorious to see John Veale's Violin Concerto dealt with at length as it was in 2002. How long before we get recordings of the Roy Harris-influenced single movement First Symphony, the epic Second, Panorama, the Clarinet Concerto and the erotic Song of Radha.
No room at the Penguin inn for the powerful and very individual sounding music of Arnold Rosner and such a pity that Rozsa's Tripartita on the bargain label Kleos is not mentioned. As far as I can see small US labels such as Phoenix (therefore no Kernis despite his merited ascendancy on Argo during the mid-1990s), First Edition (now carrying the Louisville torch but disregarded by the Penguin) and Citadel do not get a single look in. Also the coverage of the productive Arte Nova and Oehms labels seems at best vestigial.
The Schoeck entry has shrunk from six entries in 2002 to two in 2004. There is no mention of Pan Classics’ Schoeck and Schmidt CDs.
On the other hand they do good justice to Miaskovsky with many of the Olympias fully reviewed even if they are more praising of Svetlanov's version of the Fifth than it merits (try to find the old Olympia version incandescently conducted Konstantin Ivanov - you won't be sorry).
Both of Albeniz's English operas Merlin and Henry Clifford are listed (Decca) yet no room is found for Tobias's magnificent cantata Jonasendung. It is a pity that they omit some personal favourites such as the Antes Edition, Bella Musica CD of the Heino Eller Violin Concerto and tone poems,
The Alwyn entry has changed substantially from 2002 with all the Lyritas now cleared out and the Alwyn field relying completely on Chandos ... who it is true have done him better than proud. Still those Lyritas are available if only through Harold Moores.
Penguin omits the Bernstein Sibelius symphonies bargain box at long last released by Sony. Presumably this is to do with the cut-off date for publication.
Why is there no room for a mention of any of the Ivanovs series on Campion? The Violin Concerto is a stunner. Penguin owes this some advocacy in the next edition.
While the work of Claudio in licensing from Hyperion an LP's worth of Alan Bush tapes previously only on vinyl is recognised on p. 299 no room has been found for Claudio's equally intriguing Anthony Milner reissue also from an Hyperion LP.
Inexplicably you will look in vain for any of the more than a dozen Hovhaness CDs on Crystal. We get the two Delos doubles also listed in the 2002 edition and nothing else. In omitting the Crystals the reader is denied knowledge of the Majnun (based on the Antar legend) and the tessellated St Vartan CDs. These are superb discs in good 1970s analogue sound and deserve better.
Criteria for inclusion and exclusion are bound to intrigue. These are usually to do with lack of ‘ready availability’. This might have been true in the days of the friendly neighbourhood record shop but the internet makes the world's stocks available to everyone who has the cash to lay down. So what else guides the editorial hand?

There is the usual speckling of errrors and typos:-

‘Bottstein’ on p.xi instead of Botstein.

p.1118 ‘Halsey Stephens’ when it should be Halsey Stevens

p.1193 2004; p.1206 2002 Schwantner is listed as ‘Schwanter’!

p.1119 Boulez is listed just as 'Pierre' under a review of the Schoenberg Piano Concerto.

p.1342 Leipzig is spelt as ‘Leibzg’ in the Manfred review.

Ibert's entry has shrunk from ten entries to six. Out goes the review of Olympia's two CDs of Ibert's complete chamber music but the heading for it remains a stranded single line on p.649.

Also a pity that certain errors are carried over from the 2002 edition. Thus on pp. 1238 (2002) and 1222 (2004) the name of Phyllis Bryn-Julson is still rendered as Phyllis Bryn-Johnson. Will it be in the 2006 edition as well?

Who knows, at the time of the 2006 edition, Penguin may be able to include the Polish DUX set of Paderewski's opera Manru currently languishing on digital tape stock awaiting a sponsor to fund its release as well as the Cyril Scott Third Symphony The Muses on Chandos. What we have seen is an exponential burgeoning of coverage both horizontally (new readings or reissue of interpretations from radio archives) and vertically (new repertoire - both new music and revivals). That will surely continue and Penguin will be there to keep us company.

There is still no e-mail address to which to direct suggestions for items to be included. This is regrettable in a decade that has seen the internet as a major and growing carrier of information and commerce.

A delight to see some rarities. There are several discs I had not heard of including a Forlane 2CD set of music by Bechara El-Khoury even if at one point he is shown as ‘Bechera’.

Given the coverage of an estimated 9500 CDs and 70 DVDs the standard of spelling and accuracy is pretty good. It's just that it could with a little effort be even better.

Although bearing some of the stigmata of rushed production this book remains the most wide-ranging and satisfying guide structured on a CD by CD basis. You could do a great deal worse than be steered by these recommendations. However, as with any authoritative let alone claimed 'definitive' delphic oracle, keep your channels of judgement open. Do try to hear other versions as well as those commended or condemned by the Guide. As ever experts in aesthetics are only definitive in relation to what pleases them rather than what necessarily pleases you.

Christmas looms. Any novitiate, indeed any established collector, will find good reading here. Armchair, January sales, internet purchasing and record tokens are adroitly complemented by this book which comes with a clear if not completely unclouded recommendation.

Rob Barnett

PUBLISHER’S BRIEFING:-

New Penguin Guide To Compact Discs And DVDs

Published on 15 September 2003 at £24.99

  • Unrivalled resource reveals the latest and greatest in classical recordings
  • Introduces repertoire old and new, from de Coincy to Pichl, Lekeu to Ridout
  • Tracks the trends in the industry, including the proliferation of Adams, Byrd, and Dohnányi on disc
  • Hails the DVD revolution
  • Unveils for the first time Key Recordings, an overview of the crème de la crème to guide new and experienced collectors

One glance at the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs & DVDs will sufficiently dispel any doomsayers’ predictions of the end of the music business as we know it. The biggest and most comprehensive guide to classical recordings ever – weighing in with 1,566 pages of unparalleled assessments – makes it clear that the compact disc continues to thrive and there is more music around us than ever before. But with ever more recordings on the market how does one make an informed purchasing decision? The new Penguin Guide to Compact Discs & DVDs, published on 15 September 2003, sorts through Taverner to Tavener, super-budget and premium priced product, legendary recordings and debut artists, offering the definitive answers to any music lover’s questions. The lively and informed reviews of Ivan March, Edward Greenfield and Robert Layton – whose well-known and welcome personal touch is greatly appreciated by the Guide’s many devotees – reveal the best on offer from labels large and small, pointing consumers in their desired direction.
No other guide offers the perspective of The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs and DVDs. 27 years after the Guide’s first publication, you could say the authors have heard it all, yet they continue to delight in new discoveries as well as harking back to the classical gems in the catalogue. The new guide contains a host of first-time entries for composers from the renaissance to the present day. The 12th century Gaultier de Coincy, the Czech classical symphonist Václav Pichl, the post-Wagnerian Guillaume Lekeu, and the 20th century English composer Alan Ridout are but a few whose work has benefited from the continued wealth of recordings and their new presence in the Guide.
From their unique vantage point within the classical music industry, the authors have witnessed over the years the rise from obscurity of several composers due to their proliferation on disc. William Byrd was little known 20 years ago; now his complete works are being recorded. In the 1950s, Dohnányi was known only for his Variations on a Nursery Tune. His oeuvre is now much better represented. Charles Koechlin’s atmospheric scores have truly emerged in the past decade. Of contemporary composers, John Adams has succeeded as the leading voice of his generation.

 



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