Fruits of the best
If a reasonably cautious music-loving person woke suddenly from years'
of sleep, their first glimpse of a current issue of that record fanatic's
'bible' - The Gramophone - would either astonish
them beyond belief, or shock them back into a deep slumber until excesses
of the mammoth kind expire. Who can possibly take a realistic overview of
the CDs that pour from labels large, small, and smaller still? Obviously,
the record experts are continuously on the ball, but how exhausting it must
If we change our vantage point, take things quietly and think again,
there is vitality in the air, a sense of discovery - and the essence
of rediscovery as most of the great performers of the past are brought back
to life with amazingly remastered recordings of their vintage years. To
the music lover with good record playback and a healthy income, the availability
of such musical wealth is a magnet to excess. We could so easily suffer
musical paralysis as our ears and eyes wilt under the strain.
I am not deliberately steering my thoughts to some climactic verbal explosion.
What's the point? We are all of sufficient mental stamina - hopefully
- to take control of our indulgences and pursue a course of disciplined
listening. Shaped by a balance between that which we adore and need and
that which requires our attention for its significance in the course of
historical development, it is possible nowadays to indulge in an essentially
musical choice of this or that option.
The most sensitive issues confront us when we arrive at the cutting edge,
at which point so many music lovers become modern Jeremiahs woefully lamenting
Man's imminent plunge into musical chaos. As that probably started
in the year of the Rite of Spring we've had most of a century
to accept the evolutionary principle.
One immensely vital factor and wildly miraculous achievement is the growing
repertory of modern music on disc. I always blink when the BBC's prospectus
for the London Promenade Concerts is published. Commitment to the modern
orchestral repertory and to a unique array of commissions, guided by musical
and not financial parameters, is eminently praiseworthy.
Perhaps the BBC and the record companies know more about these things
than a mere onlooker. It puts pressure on us all to keep abreast of the
best. Talking of which, George Benjamin's Palimpsest conducted
by the composer at the Prom in July (as also his excellent account of Stravinsky's
Firebird) was precisely of this order.
Maybe a recording of this work is not far distant? As long as we remember
that this age produces quite as much musical quality as others, but technical
sophistication is catching up fast, giving us the meretricious (inevitable)
as well the fruits of the best.
Copyright © 10 August 2000 Basil Ramsey,
Eastwood, Essex, UK
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