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EDITORIAL How we listen now? [2]

Further musing on this important topic is prompted by Harriet Smith's article in Gramophone (Awards 2006 issue, p.27). She begins severely, describing critical listening as a disciplined occupation, demanding the sorting of discs for review on arrival, placing in context, exploring comparisons and presenting thoughts fairly and in coherent prose.

But then thoughts, and Smith's actual listening, wander. In a serenditpitous example of how she may get sidetracked, she starts with Boyd Neel's historic Brandenburg Concertos, travels via Kathleen Long's Fauré (both reminders of my distant past!) then pauses with Marcelle Meyer's Rameau on piano, thence to Nancarrow's player piano studies, Cage's Sonatas & Interludes, and Feldman, her final destination Simon Bainbridge; the inherent logic of this explained as we accompany her on this "great musical journey" which I'd have been more than happy to share!

That admirable eclecticism echoes what readers will find if, through the Live Events and CDs/DVDs listings of Musical Pointers, they trace most of my own monthly home listening excursions. Maybe some of you do likewise in a leisurely day? (The sort of mixture that happened more by planning in an old-fashioned Gramophone Club.)

Is mine a frivolous approach, which I rationalise through freedoms I claim as overall Editor and webmaster, not being a specialist reviewer? Today I listened to the final movement of Ives' 4th Symphony held over from yesterday, finished viewing a disappointing DVD of La Boheme from Madrid, worked posting reviews onto MP, took a break to continue seeing/hearing a marvellous new Julian Bream DVD, sampled Flemish Renaissance music which arrived from Australia in the lunchtime post, listened to a new BBC Legends release of (Rostropovich/Rozhdestvensky Elgar concerto, a 1985 performance which I attended) - like space and time travel !!

And then I wrote this piece...

In 1999 Harriet Smith commissioned me to survey for International Piano Review all the then available CDs of Galina Ustvolskaya's piano music, a daunting and exhausting task, but one I was pleased to have completed.

There will have been other Ustolvskaya recordings by more pianists since then, but it stands as a good introduction for purchasers, and I don't think they will miss out significantly by not catching the latest. In that article I adopted Music Web's then star system, which was subsequently abandoned at my suggestion and the CD editor's concurrence.

International Piano Review is long defunct and I have never attempted anything comparable since, nor indeed been invited to review for the established paper outlets (the gulf between print and electronic reviewing, discussed as Only a website persists, has abated only a little).

How do YOU listen? How do you buy? Please tell us.

Is it enough for you that Musical Pointers appraises performances, live and recorded, as they strike us various reviewers, without awarding star ratings or (generally) making comparisons with those of yore. Scores are expensive and rigorous comparisons necessarily infrequent. Recording quality, and audience coughs and applause, are not key considerations for MP...

For more detailed comparative CD reviews, there is BBC R3 Record Review, Gramophone etc and - the most comprehensive - International Record Review, which too doesn't offers the easy (and inevitably unreliable) reassurance of star ratings and 'must buy' certainties.

It remains for the reader to consider whether to try to catch an opera during its current run, to bear in mind concerts and musicians for their future reappearances, or whether a CD or DVD may be in the right price bracket to make it worth purchasing.

PGW (Editor)


Harriet Smith shows us that taste and judgment, however well systematised, remains eclectic.

When I was only a lay listener, I had a canon of favourite artists, record labels and repertoire. Once I started following record reviews, I quickly developed a sense of the taste of each critic too, and even their style. I read reviews partly for information, but more because they were well-written and a reinforcement of my own interest in the music.

In other words, I think my taste in reviews demonstrates the same ecleticism. It doesn't matter if they are with or without stars, with or without comparisons (though serious comparisons are interesting), with or without a recommendation to buy. Interesting reviews are good, like interesting recordings; it's certainly up to the reviewer to try and interest the reader, as well as to discuss the disc reviewed.

Ying Chang
(reviewer Classical Source & Musical Pointers)