Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

International Record Review     What our reviewers think of the new magazine


Comments were invited from  several of our our reviewers on the first issue of International Record Review March 2000. These will be of particular interest to our American readers who seem to be experiencing difficulty in finding a copy to help them to decide whether or not to take out a subscription.

Subscription on-line is not yet available but there is a downloadable application form here

Len Mullenger

e-mail your comments to and a selection will appear on this site.

Rob Barnett - Classical Editor MotW

INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW - The Debut edition - March 2000

A welcome!

IRR, it is to be hoped, is a new and long-lasting presence in the classical CD review market. Publications have over the years come and gone. I have fond memories of Records and Recordings which died circa 1978. Fanfare (flourishing since circa 1978) is a mark of excellence but it is produced once very two months. IRR is a monthly and therefore vies with Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine. Thankfully it concentrates on the music and is not about to be taken over by the latest 'dreamboy' or 'dreamgirl' performer. It will not tackle film music or popular music or world music. This is to be welcomed though I have a few misgivings about the exclusion of film music. It does cover equipment (a pity that - there are plenty of other magazines to address that part of the market).

The first issue seems to have very little advertising and plenty of review in decent-sized print spread three columns to a page. It is somewhat severe but I'll settle for that when I see what has overcome Gramophone and others. The list of reviewers is long and distinguished. I noticed some names listed who do not have reviews in this issue. I would expect that there will be a gradual thinning out. For now what a pleasure to see reviews from David Gutman, David Fanning, Edward Corp, Hugh Canning, David Cairns, Martin Anderson, Robert Layton, John Warrack, Max Loppert, Michael Oliver and Mortimer Frank.

The list of March releases is excellent (glad to see that Orfeo are releasing a CD of Miaskovsky Symphonies 2 and 10 - it wasn't listed in this month's Gramophone). There is a major feature article and a discography on Pierre Boulez. A list of record company websites has already proved very useful to me. I would like to know how IRR are going to develop their website.

There are something like 110 pages of CD reviews in this issue. The reviews are not capsules and thankfully they avoid the oversimplification of star markings (would that we could shakes this off ourselves!). I looked through the reviews and was pleased to see discs not reviewed by others: Avshalomoff (Marco Polo), Bentzon Symphonies and piano concerto (Dacapo), Brian Symphonies (Marco Polo), some of the ClassicO British Symphonic Collection, Mielck (I have been meaning to review that for CMOTW for some time now!), a neatly scathing review of a collection of 'unknown Shostakovich', a splendidly expansive review of the New York Philharmonic's American Celebration boxed set and so on.

What I didn't like: We could do without the pages of audio review (not that many but one is too many in my view - I suppose it is expedient and is to do with advertising revenue). The font chosen is too slender to make for the easiest of reading although the reflection index of the paper has been very well judged - just matte enough - just glossy enough!

I was not too taken by the Michael Oliver 'featurette - Too Many Records'. Michael Oliver has written within the frame he has been given but I would much have preferred a 'desert island' list of, say, ten works or performances which deserve to be recorded for the first time or issued for the first time. The delicate fragrance of Harry Enfield's opera buffs hangs over page 160.

Let's hear more about the music. I want to hear from Mortimer Frank about deserving unrecorded American works, from Robert Layton about his discoveries among Scandinavian music and from David Fanning about people like Revutsky, Dzerzhinsky and any of thousands of Soviet composers whose music gathers cobwebs in archives throughout the one-time USSR. I didn't like the batch of anthology reviews at the back. Why not have these in their proper places, each disc separately reviewed, in the main part of the magazine. Could we have more reviews? The whole magazine is only 160 pages long.

It strikes me that IRR is well able to take over the one-time role of Gramophone (it has now arrogated to itself a new role) in pleasurably educating (yes), in giving us a smattering of other languages, in exciting us with news of recording sessions (none or very little of that in this issue) and in leading us towards new discoveries - new composers, new works, linkages we never thought of and will be delighted by.

And please IRR, for all of our sakes, don't appoint some design guru to restyle IRR. Apart from the font it looks fine. We don't need pointed little headlines over each review. We don't need stars. The simplicity of it is fine. We do not need clever little 'pulled quote' boxes or photos of the composers or hero-performers. We don't need personality cults whether: reviewers or artists. The advertising may force you to take the latest Wunderkind coached by EMI and Polygram but please don't let that develop into a feature culture.

A warm welcome to IRR. Let's see more!

Rob Barnett

Ian Lace's appreciation

Wot no cover CDs? After all the hype and anticipation the first issue of International Record Review (IRR) has at last arrived. Note the title; no mention of CD! We are back with that old word 'record' conjuring up brittle shellac and the hiss, crackle and pop of LPs. In fact it's like entering a time warp, proceeding through pages heavy with type, relieved by very few illustrations to encounter a world that vanished with the 1980s when Gramophone, at last, had to face up to competition.

At £3:50, this slim magazine (presumably later additions will have more girth) is some 50p less expensive than the competition [Gramophone's cover price is £3.40 without CD - Len]. Presumably to make up for the lack of the attached CD. (Anyway, does anybody listen to them?) It would seem to be in direct competition with the likes of Fanfare and the new improved brighter, whiter Gramophone now gone irredeemably downmarket to compete with those vulgar superficial 'tabloid' fellas: Classic CD, BBC Music Magazine and Classic fm Magazine.

It is encouraging to see how editor Harriet Smith has recruited so much review talent. Certainly she seems to have got the wind up the competition because it has been reported that reviewers from at least one existing publication, who are tempted to stray over to the enemy camp will face instant dismissal. For a new publication that is hardly off the launch pad that is praise indeed. Furthermore, International Record Review's subscription department is also proudly claiming that it is being inundated with subscription orders. All this would seem to augur well for the fledgling.

Clearly this magazine is not for the Classic fm enthusiast, the collector of collections, the fan of Pavarotti, or the part-time music lover who utters "Reynaldo who?" The in-depth reviews thankfully unshackled by other magazine's ridiculously inhibiting 100-200 word brevities (I ought to know I suffered them, myself, for nearly ten years) are written enthusiastically by people who really know and enthuse about their subjects. Take for example, Robert Matthew Walker's two-column review of Marco Polo's new recording of Havergal Brian's Symphonies 11 and 15 etc. Robert's knowledge and boundless crusading spirit is palpable and you are persuaded that this neglected English composer really has something significant to say. It is also good to see the irascible Michael Tanner on the team too. He will no doubt bring fire and controversy to these pages.

It is useful to have the month's releases given on an early page and a very useful addition is the list of web site addresses for the record companies. Just as useful would be their e-mail addresses. The only feature article after six pages of news items is the DG special, release-driven profile of Pierre Boulez together with a discography, again, I suspect, DG driven. I hope that the new editorial team will assert some independence over their forthcoming features list rather than letting the record companies lead them by the nose.

Life goes on and times change. We all have less time at our disposal and we need to prioritise how we spend it. Our attention must be enticed quickly; away from competing distractions. In this context, not all the developments in recorded music publications are to be lamented. I would suggest that incorporating other publications' policy of adding thumb-nail illustrations of CD covers to the top of the reviews would not only add a vital eye-appeal to the reviews pages, breaking up acres of solid type but it would also be of assistance to buyers searching in-shop racks.

On the whole the new magazine has created an excellent impression. I wish it well.

Ian Lace- Editor Film Music on the Web

Gary Dalkin

It is a very strange experience to read the first issue of this 'new' magazine, as if one had somehow awoke in an almost identical parallel universe, in which the only difference to our familiar reality is that Gramophone is here called International Record Review. Even the new title is comfortably anachronistic, for who in the last year of the 20th century still refers to CDs, the contemplation of which is the buisness of IRR, as 'records'? No one I know. The adverts are the same as in Gramophone, there is news at the front, followed by a feature article, and hi-fi coverage at the back. Presumably one can not copyright something as nebulous as the format of a magazine. Many of the words within are written by very familiar names, though rightly IRR prides itself upon the status of its critics. The level of expert knowledge is very high.

Of course there are differences. The cover price is lower, partly no doubt because IRR sensibly ensues the superfluous cover CD [Gramophone's cover price is £3.40 without CD - Len]. The timings of CDs are listed in hours and minutes (1 hour, 6 minutes), rather than in minutes alone. The reviews are longer, offering more depth. Perhaps rather more depth than many readers will want, but then they are already catered for. If I see a problem, it is in a lack of enthusiasm, strange to say of a first issue. Nick Morgan demonstrates his love of Chabrier with whole hearted commitment, conveying his joy in the music in a way that makes me want to hear the CD. Elsewhere such delight is sometimes absent. We listen to music for pleasure, to illuminate the joys and sorrows of what it is to be alive, to be human, to worship, to dance, to party, because music touches the soul like nothing else. The reviews in IRR impart a lot of information with considerable erudition, but so often at the peril of embalming, dissecting, ossifying. They do not communicate the life of the music. Striking the balance between the intellectual appreciation of a recording and expressing the way listening to it makes us feel is a difficult thing. Perhaps I just enjoy the experience of music too much to require every detail scrutinised so rigorously, but to me what this debut issue offers is a fine description of the bark with only the occasional exhilarating panorama of the majestic forest.

Gary Dalkin

Harry Downey

Congratulations on Issue One of International Record Review. I like what I see and my subscription is in the post. Once Letters to the Editor start to arrive and small ads begin to appear at the back of the magazine, then reader loyalty will become properly established and the IRR will be looked forward to as a friend every month ,just as any specialist publication should be.

But I foresee a problem that I feel needs an airing.

I live in Deepest Dorset. We do not have a Tower Records, an HMV Shop or Virgin Records within what I would consider to be a reasonable distance. There is an MVC outlet in Weymouth (23 miles each way and a slow drive in the holiday months). We have a W.H.Smith store six miles away but IRR seem to choose not to sell through them. Fortunately, I knew that the magazine was to be published in March, so I managed to acquire a copy.

Suppose, though, that I had not learned of a new magazine on the market? IRR wants subscribers - they are out there - how do the two groups meet? There must be lots of potential readers out in the sticks, all over the U.K. who do not yet know that IRR exists. Until it is possible to buy a copy over the counter in the small market towns and even in the larger villages of the country, then I suggest their targeting is not complete.

No doubt all that I have said has been discussed by the Sales team already, but may I ask them to re-think their policy? Please remember those of us living away from the larger centres of population, who wish them well but need a little help in order to ensure IRR succeeds.

Harry Downey

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