Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Penguin Guide to Compact Discs
Yearbook 2000/1

By Ivan March, Edward Greenfield and Robert Layton
Penguin Books, London. Pp 706. PB, £14.99

AmazonUK £11.99   AmazonUS $16

The Penguin Guide has achieved classic status and the last main guide was reviewed in these pages in March 2000 . All three authors will appeared together on the same platform at the FRMS Musical Weekend at Stratford earlier this year..

When a Yearbook appears, many reader's reactions are mixed - has sufficient occurred in one year to warrant buying a new book? Do we have to look up in two books before every purchase?

However this particular Yearbook is different because it contains what the authors call a "Cornucopia of Collections". This comprises about half of the pages of the book and covers orchestral, instrumental and vocal recitals of short pieces, which for practical reasons have had to be ignored in recent editions of the guide. What a wealth of great music is discussed here (music does not have to be long to be good); some in modern recordings but many comprise truly incomparable historical performances of the repertoire which was meat and drink in the 78 era. In very many cases the recordings have been improved beyond recognition due to modern digital techniques.

Whilst in the days of the 78s, we used to curse because it was so difficult to listen to a long work such as a Mahler symphony, now we have the opposite problem. We might like Rossini overtures and therefore we purchase a disc containing perhaps eight; but do we wish to hear all eight after each other? In many ways a well balanced collection is the ideal way of listening to music, but alas few discs are planned with such listening in mind. However, this volume contains descriptions and reviews of many really good collection discs which contain short pieces in a way which is a delight to listen to.

In the main section there has been a flood of new issues and reissues celebrating the 250th anniversary of Bach. The first discs from the Philip's fascinating "Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century" was covered in the main volume but are completed in the Yearbook.

Although there is much in the press about the crisis in the recording industry, the sheer number of new CDs proves that the crisis affects the new recording by the major companies rather than the activity by the smaller companies and those concentrating on reissues.

One recent trend which has produced a good many very interesting compilations are 'duos', originally introduced by Philips. In these, two standard records are presented together as a double album for the price of one disc. There are also huge multi-disc collections covering most of the available output of certain well recorded artists such as the new Artur Rubinstein collection of over 50 discs. These large collections are more problematic in appeal as in most cases admirers of the artists in question will already own many of the recordings. Duplication is always a potential problem for large collections, especially when individual discs are not available separately.

There are also a surprising number of new composers, of which one of the oldest is Reginaldus Libert (born c. 1430). There are also good new discs of seldom heard 19th Century composers which are well worth exploring.

Because of its nature, this is a volume to be dipped into for unexpected treasures as well as its obvious reference value. Because of the Collections section, this is a more important publication than the average Yearbook and it will prove to be a useful reference volume.


Arthur Baker

This Review first appeared in the Bulletin of the Federation of Recorded Music Societies ©

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