‘The bible for the
discriminating record collector.’ That’s
the way David Mellor describes the Penguin
Guide’s role; a mentor for collectors
of recordings of classical music.
With the names of March,
Greenfield and Layton as the triumvirate
reviewing team the Penguin Guide is
very much the voice of old Gramophone
- pre-Jolly if not quite pre-glitz.
This should be encouraging because at
least this means we are getting informed
judgements, eloquently and expansively
put across. However, as we shall see,
it could have been even better. It’s
a triumph - that’s for sure - so don’t
let my observations hold you back.
Some historical perspective:
The Penguin series traces its origins
from the hardback Stereo Record Guide,
the first issue of which came out in
1960. There were eight more volumes
after that. The first Penguin Stereo
Record Guide appeared in 1975 and there
have been further editions since then
each reflecting in its title the arrival
or decline of a new medium (LP, cassette,
CD, SACD, DVD). The 1988 issue had compact
disc listed first in the title. By 1990
the book had become the Penguin Guide
to Compact Discs seven years after the
launch of the silver carrier. A new
edition has appeared once every two
years since then.
about the new edition. Its ‘look and
feel’ first. It’s a big and burly paperback.
Both the 2002 and the 2003/4 guides
had the same number of pages (1566pp)
but the new edition has dropped to 1520pp.
That said the key recordings list that
took up circa 40 pages in the 2003/4
issue has now disappeared - a welcome
loss! In its place there is a much more
compact ‘Hundred Outstanding Recordings’
and ‘Fifteen Outstanding DVDs’ at the
start of the volume.
The paper stock used
in 2002 was more cream than white but
contrast, with a good clear black font
against a white ground, is a feature
of both the new edition and its immediate
Reviews remain in alphabetical
order by composer name. Within each
composer entry they are organised: orchestral,
vocal and stage although the programming
ingenuity of the companies mercilessly
tests the categories time after time.
The reviews are presented in double
snaking columns. The experience of browsing
the book is pleasing although it’s a
weighty tome better suited to reading
at a table than perusing in an armchair
and certainly not for toting around
the record shops ... at least not until
it can be downloaded into your PDA.
DVD and SACD recordings
are now dealt with in the relevant composer’s
alphabetical section alongside CD reviews.
It’s a sign of the times that in 2002
DVDs were allotted a ghetto of their
own at the end of the book.
The usual panoply of
keys, rosettes and stars (from one to
three; more = better) are used. I wonder
whether the time has come for some rationalisation
here. The key symbol denotes a recommendation
that a reviewed disc might form the
basis of a personal collection.
Ivan March’s commentary
on the Key Recordings is disarming stressing
that these are for guidance only. The
listener is enjoined to make choices
according to personal inclinations.
The Foreword is shorter
than for 2003/4 and now includes a section
on Surround Sound and what’s more both
Regis and Naxos come in for some well
merited extended praise. The 2006 Yearbook
- a top-up to the present volume - is
trumpeted as is the Alwyn centenary.
In passing I noticed
the following as I leafed my way through:-
p. 19 - Arnoldinan
should presumably be Arnoldian.
p. 87 - wonderful to
see Fritz Werner’s Bach cantata Warner
Erato boxes receiving some moderated
p. 239 - I was surprised
to see Tjeknavorian’s vivid and lucid
1970s BMG collection of Borodin’s three
symphonies ranked below the Järvi
set on DG.
p. 314 - Alan Bush
gets superb treatment even taking on
board the Claudio recording of the Violin
Concerto as well as both of the Meridian
p. 590 - again I was
surprised to see the Delos Schwarz recordings
of the Hanson symphonies preferred to
the first three and Lament for Beowulf
(possibly Hanson’s finest work) recorded
by the composer on Mercury.
p. 591 - The Albany
TROY CD of Roy Harris ‘s second symphony
is said to be coupled with Harris’s
Third Symphony - wrong! The coupling
is the third symphony of Morton Gould.
p. 651 - The Hovhaness
entry has gone into autopilot again
with this intriguing composer’s only
entries being the two Delos doubles
- both deleted anyway. Why is there
not a single reference to the Crystal
series or to the two Hovhaness discs
p. 685 - has a spot-on
appraisal of the wonderful original
Khachaturian Gayaneh conducted by Tjeknavorian
and reissued from its LP format
p. 689 - 2005 saw the
release on Capriccio of Koechlin’s extraordinary
orchestral poems Le Docteur Fabricius
and Vers la Voûte . There’s no
sign of it here.
p. 779 - where is the
entry for Joseph Marx? Not here, it
seems. It is deeply regrettable that
the Romantic Concerto and the Castelli
Romana concerto (ASV) as well as the
Naturtrilogie (ASV again) rate not a
single mention. Myopic in the extreme.
p. 937 - Not a mention
either of the Dux recording of Paderewski’s
attractive folksy opera Manru.
p. 1072 - just one
entry for Ropartz. Next edition we should
have the complete symphonies reviewed
p. 1107 - Joly Braga
Santos is represented by the Marco Polo
coupling of symphonies 3 and 6. The
latter is one of his most opaque pieces.
It is inexplicable to me that No. 4,
superbly recorded on Marco Polo, never
made it - perhaps reserved for the 2006
yearbook - I hope so.
p. 1119 - Thank heavens
the Schoeck entry has spread its wings
to five reviews compared with the only
2 in the 2003/4 issue.
p. 1184 - delightful
to see that Cyril Scott gets something
approaching his due with full reviews
of the Dutton and Chandos releases.
p. 1197 - Shostakovich
- Infuriating to see the Brilliant Classics
Barshai set disdained yet again. Where,
for that matter, is a review of the
Korean box of Kondrashin’s superbly
remastered 1960s and 1970s recordings.
Nowhere in sight! This is a seriously
p. 1217 - the Beulah
set of the Anthony Collins seven Sibelius
symphonies has been deleted for years
now. Nevertheless the entry for that
box still appears on p 1216. It is down
to Penguin’s good luck that Beulah have
now risen Phoenix-like. The four CD
set with those classic Decca FFRR mono
recordings is being reissued early in
p. 1215 - continuing
a tradition established in 2002 and
repeated in 2003/4 the current edition
insists on identifying the soprano in
the Gibson-Sibelius Luonnotar as Phyllis
Bryn-Johnson no matter how many times
people mention that it is Phyllis Bryn-Julson.
I am not sure why Penguin
continue to pay little attention to
Brilliant Classics sets. They are often
superb value for money yet this mentor
to the serious collector ignores them
or does them only scant justice.
It is a pleasure to
see that the first mono RVW symphonies
cycle by Boult is now mentioned and
warmly recommended complete with its
Everest-originated ninth symphony. Also
good to see a sensationally well-merited
rosette and key for the wonderfully
good value for money of Previn’s RVW
Still no room at the
Penguin inn for the powerful and very
individual sounding music of Arnold
Rosner and such a pity that even if
Rozsa's Tripartita on the bargain label
Kleos is considered beyond the pale
yet the new CPO recording of that work
does not rate a mention..
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) and Citadel continue
to be cold-shouldered.
Miaskovsky - while
one of the weaknesses of the Penguin
guide is its tendency to retain reviews
of discs that have been long deleted
we must be ironically pleased that the
Olympia CDs of Svetlanov’s recordings
of the symphonies are no longer there
- the whole label having been deleted.
However even that entry does not escape
unscathed because they insist on listing
a Russian Disc recording of symphonies
1 and 19 and that disc has been deleted
for at least five years.
Penguin chooses to
ignore the existence of the first (CBS-Sony)
Bernstein Sibelius symphonies bargain
This book remains the
most capacious and stimulating 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 voice do keep
your channels of judgement open. Do
try to hear other versions as well as
those commended or condemned by the
Christmas looms and
this book is a natural to satisfy many
enquiring music-lovers and repertoire
explorers. We are not told how many
reviews have simply been carried forward
from the last issue or how many reviews
are completely new to this one. Even
so this still comes with a clear if
not completely unclouded recommendation.
The best of what is available but it
could easily have been even better.
The most satisfying and wide-ranging
classical review book on the market.
... see Full Review