Magazine article Contemporary Review

The World of Compact Discs

Magazine article Contemporary Review

The World of Compact Discs

Article excerpt

The producers of Compact Discs are ever more inventive and innovative in the commissioning of new recordings and compilations. The market is replete with recordings of the same works. In a recent BBC interview broadcast to mark his 75th birthday, Sir Neville Martinet was frank enough to say that his new recording - a surprising choice certainly of a collection of German operetta overtures - the title was false as several of the composers were Austrian - was chosen by the marketing men. The recording industry, said Sir Neville - and he dared to add the BBC itself - was now run by the accountants. This fact only encourages endless repetition of the standard classics. Last month saw yet another complete collection of the Beethoven Piano Concertos with Alfred Brendel for one of the biggest recording labels.

Far better to turn to some of the productions of the smaller companies, whose selection and standards often show much greater originality and concern for the music itself. Take for instance OLYMPIA'S two CD recordings of Haydn's unfortunate opera Orfeo and Euridice (OCD 658 A+B). It was composed during his visit to London in 1791, but its first rehearsal was interrupted by an order from King George III forbidding any further performance. Haydn had been caught up in a feud between two rival theatres, each backed by a combative royal patron: Haydn's theatre was supported by the Prince of Wales in his struggle against the theatre backed by the King. 'Papa' Haydn was the unwitting victim of the interminable feud between royal father and son and his opera was never heard until 1951.

Orfeo and Euridice is not a great work and it will not lift Haydn into the ranks of the greatest opera composers. Yet it is a pleasant composition, full of the sprightly joy and serenity of his mature genius. It takes for its plot that perennial story of Orfeo and Euridice, currently being revived and travestied in yet another cumbersome and long-winded novel by Salman Rushdie. The music is well performed by a new Russian orchestra called, somewhat absurdly, Ensemble XXI Moscow, in honour of the approaching century.

The orchestra is elegantly directed by Richard Bonynge, a conductor whose great talents and services to neglected music have often been overshadowed by the fame of his wife, Dame Joan Sutherland. Richard Bonynge has assembled an all Russian cast with Ludmilla Shilova as Euridice and Nikolai Doroshkin as Orfeo. One must also single out the superb baritone of Yuri Sarafanov as King Creonte. (Mr Sarafanov is a graduate of a Moscow school designed to train blind performers - one of the few genuine achievements of the late unlamented Soviet Union.) This recording, far better in my view than the much 'hyped' disc with Cecilia Bartoli, is a notable addition to the CD catalogue and should delight all lovers of Haydn's music.

One of the great achievements of the CD recording revolution is the production of huge collections of the complete works of composers, whose work has, in the past, been regarded with polite condescension especially by the devotees of those curious and 'challenging' screeches and yelps that are called modern 'music'. Perhaps the two most notable examples are collections of two of the most popular (and therefore suspect) composers of the last century: Johann Strauss and Franz Liszt. Each has mounted to well over fifty discs. That innovative British company, HYPERION, has done a splendid service both for the ordinary listener and for the musicologist, with their ongoing compilation of all Liszt's works for solo piano. All the performances have been by Leslie Howard who also provides exemplary and scholarly notes about each work. Mr Howard is a perfect pianist for Liszt: he excels in the bombastic Romanticism with which Liszt liked to excite his enraptured audiences, but he also has a beguiling delicacy of touch for the more lyrical passages. If you like Liszt, you'll like Leslie Howard.

Two of the recent releases, in particular, are well worth noting. …

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