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BBC Legends, passing its one hundredth release,
is appreciated by JOHN BELL YOUNG


If there is a single word that invariably raises the eyebrows of a classical music critic, it is most certainly 'legend'. By now a cliché that clever marketers attach to dead concert artists, and to more than a few living ones, it is a description more often than not abused as a pretext to paint a performer as some remote, Garbo-like creature who is so incalculably fabulous as to deserve deification. Overkill and exaggeration are not even concepts in which those who would bandy about the term would invest any reasonable perspective. Nor is it unusual to find the word attached to the inflated biographies of mediocre performers, legends in their own minds, in a bid to attract the attention of the press.

That said, the quiet introduction over the last few years of a breathtaking series of recordings, made in concert in England over the last fifty years or so, has done much to untarnish that image and restore to it a modicum of the dignity it once engendered. Indeed, just now celebrating the release of more than a hundred extraordinary recorded performances long languishing in its vaulted archives, BBC Music, in association with IMG Artists, has virtually reinvented the idea of what constitutes a musical legend. For them, it has as much to do with the status and quality of the performer and performance as it does with the unique time and circumstances in which the music was presented. I am happy to report that virtually every one of the discs I have heard so far -- more than thirty -- have lived up to the glorious ideal the producers espouse.

BBC Legends CD covers - Benno Moiseiwitsch and Benjamin Britten
BBC Legends CD covers - Benno Moiseiwitsch and Benjamin Britten

These widely available and handsomely packaged discs are easy to identify given their identical cover designs which feature a head shot of the performer set within a bright orange, green or blue background (with the exception of a sub-series devoted to Benjamin Britten's performances at Snape Maltings, which picture black and white photos of the bucolic English countryside). They retail in the USA for only $17.95 per CD. That's a bargain, not only because they are imports, but due to the state-of-the-art re-mastering that lends an eerily live and realistic presence to the sound that seems to place the listener in the concert hall. It's like entering a time warp. You are there.

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Copyright © 8 December 2002 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA


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