Music and Vision homepage


Editorial Musings with Basil Ramsey

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 be.

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


 << Music & Vision home             Seeking illumination >>