Brian Wilson’s review
of this new Penguin guide is already
on site. Brian assesses, in some
depth, where the 2008 Guide scores and
where it errs - mainly, for him, errors
of omission. I intend to cover its usefulness,
as a tool, in assessing best buys, and
to compare it with its newly published
rival the Gramophone Classical
Music Guide 2008. My review
of that publication is here.
The first thing to
note is that from now onwards the full
Penguin Guide will be
published annually The sort of half-way
house that was, for example, the leaner
700-page, The Penguin
Guide to Compact Discs & DVDs Yearbook
2006/7 which updated
the previous fully fledged Guide, is
to be a thing of the past.
With recordings coming
at us from all directions through CDs,
DVDs, iTunes, Emusic, own label websites,
podcasting, it is not surprising that
the Penguin Guide will
now be published annually. Better go
into training to lug its increasing
weight home and at the same time build
more extra-strong shelving!
By the way it would
be useful if somebody, soon, did a survey
into buying patterns and to ascertain
whether the market, as a whole, is expanding
– or not.
So to the comparisons:
and PAGES (number and format):-
1,588 pages; £25 but currently £17.50
($19.80) from Amazon
UK & US Gramophone:
1414 pages; AmazonUK
The formats are both
large paperback. The Penguin
Guide is 6¾ inches wide, the Gramophone
just 5¾ inches. Correspondingly, the
Penguin column width is
greater (by roughly ½ inch); its type
size is larger and clearer and the paper
stock is whiter so reading is a much
easier and more pleasant experience.
a well-established team: Ivan March,
Edward Greenfield Robert Layton and
Paul Cjajkowski. I’ve often wondered
if they lead and edit the work of an
unnamed team, if not I have to admire
A team of some 80 named
experienced reviewers (including Messrs
March, Greenfield and
Layton), each an expert in the period
of music they review.
For both publications,
the reviews are graded and organized
quite similarly. Four price ranges are
indicated, by symbols, in both tomes;
Penguin does not gives a symbol
for full price releases.
evaluates using a 1-4 star-rating system
ranging upwards from "A fair or
somewhat routine performance…"
to "…really exceptional on every
count" with a key graphic to indicate,
"key" recordings that are
top recommendations; and a rosette for
certain special issues.
a diamond for "simply the best",
and 1-3 disc symbols for, "strongly
and "classic". When no disc
is shown readers must assume that the
recording is "recommended – a good
performance with the odd reservation".
Gramophone’s $ cash bag indicates a
low priced but exceptional recording.
For emphasis both Penguin
and Gramophone now
box reviews of outstanding releases.
As to be expected there are differences.
For instance both books recommend the
Pappano (EMI) and Monteux (Testament)
recordings of Massenet’s Manon
but only Penguin boxes
them. But then Gramophone
boxes - with comment in the boxes -
eight recordings (led by Heifetz) of
Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto whereas
Penguin boxes only five but also covers
over twenty others.
So the judgement here
must be purely subjective, either one
or the other; however, the keenest and
more affluent professionals might plump
– my cop-out - A Draw
Here the field is clearer.
has two: one of "Artists":
conductors, orchestras and ensembles,
soloists. The other is a very useful
index. Ever been frustrated trying to
find two reviews of works by two different
composers on one record; perhaps the
Bruch and Mendelssohn Violin Concertos?
Well, Gramophone has an Index
has none beyond the necessary introductory
is feature rich. They include the current
‘Records of the Year’; ‘100 Great Recordings’;
suggestions of works to build a basic
library; and essays on the historical
periods of music from Early Music to
The Romantic Era and ‘Into the Future’.
The latter feature, useful for many
who might find ‘Modern’ works ‘difficult’,
has a list of seminal works, from Bartók
to Varèse; an explanation of
the term ‘Serialism’, a list of key
terms, ‘Recommended Repertoire Exploration’
and a box entitled ‘Looking into the
Future’ with another list that includes
recordings of: Adams’s El Niño,
Pärt’s Lamentate. Da Pacem Domine
and Turnage’s Scherzoid and Yet
Another Set To.
Round three to
For the serious collector
both books are indispensable and complement