The World of Compact Discs

By Munson, James | Contemporary Review, October 1995 | Go to article overview

The World of Compact Discs


Munson, James, Contemporary Review


James Munson

The music world has seen an explosion of interest in the Classics, a phenomenon which it credits to the Compact Disc. The CD is now established as the main means by which people listen to classical music. The only rival is the cassette tape. The CD gives a better sound, is far less likely to develop scratches, allows one to pick and choose what one wants to hear, and gives much more music in a far handier and more durable format. All this, however, does not answer the question: why has the CD made classical music more popular?

The CD world, like the world of the `black disc' before it, is divided into many camps and price bands. At the top end there are companies like Deutsche Grammophon or EMI which continue to issue high quality CDs with famous singers, soloists and orchestras but at high prices. These would hardly account for the revolution in listening to classical music. While new mediums, like Britain's new national radio channel, Classic FM, and popular attractions like the 1990 worldwide television broadcast of the `Three Tenors' from Rome, have done a great deal to popularise classical music, they do not explain the phenomenon.

The real cause is the availability of classical recordings on cheaper priced compact discs. A whole new range of small, new firms -- many in Britain -- have sprung up over the years to take advantage of the new technology. One of the most `established' of these new firms is Hyperion Records in London. This is the creation of Ted Perry who began making CDs in the 1980s. Fifteen years later the firm still only employs ten people yet produces some eighty CDs a year and has some six hundred titles. It now has just under four per cent of the United Kingdom's market in compact discs. His method was to keep costs down and not to produce yet more recordings of the `greats'. He aimed at relatively neglected areas which would still prove popular to the new buyers of the new CDs. His greatest single success is A Feather on the Breath of God, music by the mediaeval nun, Hildegard of Bingen. This has sold 150,000 copies.

One of the musicians Hyperion uses most frequently is Nikolai Demidenko, a Russian pianist who records exclusively with the company. Demidenko began recording concertos by the greatest Russian composers, like Rachmaninov's Second and Fourth. From there he has moved on to widen his field and in a recent recording (CDA 66808 000) he played four sonatas by Muzio Clementi (1752-1832): D Major, F sharp Minor, B Flat Major and B Minor. Clementi's works for the piano form an important stage in the history of the instrument and these recordings show the mastery which the composer possessed. Demidenko's performance is superb, especially the adagio and rondo finale in the B Flat Sonata.

A second firm which has made a name for itself is I.M.G. Records which issues recordings under the Pickwick and IMG imprints. Recent releases show the wide range of its output and illustrate the way in which firms now work. Part of the success of the `CIassical Revolution' has flowed from the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the re-emergenee of eastern Europe's nations into the mainstream of civilisation.

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