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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
New Penguin Guide
To Compact Discs And DVDs
Published on 15 September
2003 at £24.99
- Unrivalled resource
reveals the latest and greatest in
- 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
- 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.