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New Projects for the New Year

Here at Musicweb, we realise that the main reason for people visiting our site is to read the reviews of CDs, DVDs, books and live performances. We could simply focus on this, but we do try to expand the range of information offered and improve what there is already.

To this end, our Musicweb New Year's Resolutions are four-fold:

  1. the development of two different review indexes: one covering all reviews categorised by the record label, the other covering reviews of selected masterworks
  2. the development of some additional Themed Release pages, in parallel with the indexes
  3. an ongoing series of articles highlighting some of the interesting articles found across the diverse range of blogs related to classical music
  4. the editing team's personal choices of their favourite recordings of all time

Indexes
The absence of an index for the huge archive of reviews on this site (more than 20,000 at time of writing) was one of the first questions I asked of Len Mullenger when I joined the website team at the start of 2006. His answer was that when the site was in its infancy, he didn't have sufficient time or support to build up indexes, and by the time he did have assistance (Patrick Waller and myself), it was too late because there were too many reviews on the site.

I wasn't entirely convinced, and began a trial indexing by composer each new review for a week. Quickly I realised that the task was, as Len has said, not feasible. The compilation discs, where there might be forty different tracks by as many composers, were what did the damage to the proverbial camel's back.

I did indulge my interest in Ralph Vaughan Williams and create a full index, by work, of reviews of his music. However, expanding that to every composer was clearly not an option.

Still, the absence of an index did continue to sit uncomfortably in the back of my mind. It took a comment by one of our reviewers as part of an in-house survey on a totally separate matter - "I wish there was an easier way to find the reviews on Musicweb" - that prompted me to reconsider the index issue.

While a full composer & artist index was out of the question, it came to me that there was a less ambitious means of indexing the reviews that was perhaps possible: by the catalogue number and record label. A private trial of one month's reviews convinced me that it was definitely feasible, and I was able to announce to a very surprised editing team what I had begun.

By way of example, I offer part of the index for the Naxos label. The listings are not fancy, because that would take too long. As you can see below, a number of fairly obvious abbreviations have been used in the disc description, again to reduce the time involved.

8.570010 D Scarlatti sons v8 review
8.570019 Sibelius songs v1 review
8.570020 Sibelius songs v2 review
8.570025 Farnaby fantasias review
8.570026 Turina pno wks v4 review

Each major label with a significant number of reviews has its own page, while those with only a few discs reviewed are combined alphabetically. Some of the labels which are reviewed very often, eg Naxos and EMI, have had their pages divided further.

In the near future, there will be a link to the index from the left margin list, but for the moment, you can access it from here.

The label index will allow you to easily find whether a particular disc has been reviewed on Musicweb, but it will not help you find all the reviews of a particular composition. The site's dedicated search engines - Google and Freefind - are still well and truly necessary, but not entirely satisfactory for finding certainly commonly recorded works.

As a trivial aside, I would love to know what it is about the letters A & C with regard to record companies. There are more classical labels beginning with these letters than any other by a long way!

As I began to work on the label index, it occurred to me that I could create, in parallel, a small-scale, selective index for certain oft-recorded works, which would be hard to track down by the search engines.

I am thinking of symphonies, piano concertos and the like by the great composers, such as Beethoven and Mozart. I can think of nothing that could be entered into Google or FreeFind that would efficiently find all reviews of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

Operas do not fit into this category because they have an unique title: typing "Tosca" into the search engine is likely to find all the reviews (though there will also be numerous other mentions as well). Similarly, generically named works (eg symphony) by less often recorded composers (eg Ferdinand Ries) will be able to be found via the search engines without too many "useless" hits.

Again, an example to show you how it will work: the aforementioned Beethoven's 5th:

Symphony 5

London PO/Adrian Boult Vanguard ATMCD1191 review
Munich PO/Sergiu Celibidache ArkivCD 56521 review
Cologne RSO/Erich Kleiber Medici MM0022 review
Berlin PO/Hans Knappertsbusch Tahra TAH606-09 review
San Francisco SO/Pierre Monteux Music & Arts CD1192 review
New York PO/Victor de Sabata Andromeda ANDRCD5071 review
Concertgebouw O/George Szell ArkivCD 420771 review

The Masterwork index, too, will be linked from the sidebar: it is accessible using the link below.

On inspection, you may think that the choice of works isn't broad enough, that a particular favourite of yours isn't included, for which I apologise, but I can't possibly include all of them!

As compiler, I have decided to work backwards from the present date, whilst incorporating new reviews each day into the index. At this point, all of 2007, as well as the few so far this year, has been done.

New Themed Release pages
The label index will not replace our set of Themed Release pages, since in almost all cases, releases from a label encompass far more than a single set of related recordings.

However, the process of creating the label index will make it possible to create at least one new Themed Release page: the EMI British Composers series. Because this series has no special numbering - unlike Naxos American Classics - and there appears to be no webpage at EMI allocated to listing the entire series - unlike the Great Recordings of the Century - it hasn't been possible to compile reviews of these recordings before now. The downside is that it will only grow at the same pace as the indexes, but grow, it will.

The Naxos Historical pages are still in development, with their completion date extended by the new projects.

Weblogs
For the uninitiated, a blog - abbreviated from weblog - is simply a website featuring a collection of someone's writings on a particular subject, or on any subject at all. In the old days, it would have been called a journal or diary. In a newspaper, it would be known as an "op. ed." which I now know to be an abbreviation of "opposite editorial" because of its placement in the paper.

According to Wikipedia, a blog displays the articles in reverse chronological order, therefore, the most recent being the first on the page. In most cases, the reader has the opportunity to register their own comments and responses to each article on the blog.

It was my original intention to create a link page to blogs related to classical music, as I did with the Classical Music Online and World Orchestra pages. However, I quickly found that I had been beaten to the punch. Chris Foley, a Canadian music academic and author of the Collaborative Piano Blog, has already compiled a very slick page with links to the more than 200 (!) classical music blogs he has found. Not only does his link page provide access to the blogs, but it also has regularly updated content from a number of the more popular ones.

Being a glutton for punishment, I didn't simply say "good, that's one less job to do". On a regular basis, I intend to write an article surveying some of the more generally interesting articles I see on these blogs. It will be called Recently in the Blogs, and in the best traditions of blogs, will build on itself, with previous "issues" being pushed down the page. I would like to say it will appear weekly, but that is probably asking too much, so let's compromise on at least monthly!

It will not be a critique on the content, rather a guide for time-challenged readers who aren't able to look at every blog. My choice of the blog articles will be based on their general interest, as some are quite specific to a particular city or orchestra.

On a related matter, as you are probably aware, some of our reviewers - Patrick Waller, Robert Hugill and John Quinn - have taken the trouble to record their thoughts about their musical experiences in occasional pieces called Reviewer's Logs. While links to these can be found on the What's New page along with all the articles published on Musicweb, it was felt that their efforts deserved a separate page where their writings could be found more easily. You can access this page here and via the sidebar in due course.

Our Classic Classics
Making "best of" lists is a very popular pastime. The BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs has run for 65 years based on that idea. The editing team - Len Mullenger, Rob Barnett, Patrick Waller, Bill Kenny and I - decided to do something similar, though on a rather larger scale (clearly the mp3 players we have been supplied with to take to the desert island are solar-powered and well stocked with gigabytes!)

Each of us has chosen the recordings which have provided us with the greatest pleasure across the years of our collecting and listening. These have been combined into a long list which we call Our Classic Classics. You may not agree with the selections, but we are sure that you will find them interesting.

David J Barker

 


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