Penguin Guide to Compact Discs
By Ivan March, Edward Greenfield and Robert Layton
Penguin Books, London. Pp 706. PB,
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.
This Review first appeared in the Bulletin of the Federation of Recorded
Music Societies ©