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The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music 2009
by Ivan March, Edward Greenfield, Robert Layton and Paul Czajkowski
Paperback: 1602 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Language English
ISBN-10: 0141033355
ISBN-13: 978-0141033358
£30.00 (or less)
Experience Classicsonline

I would not go so far as The Daily Telegraph in saying that you cannot go wrong with the Penguin Guide. However, it is certainly the best classical CD and DVD vade mecum available. Even so it is on a hiding to nothing because apart from errors of commission the field to be covered is so vast that a paper volume - even of this magnitude - can only ever be selective. That said it could be somewhat better as we shall see.

As the 2009 edition, you would expect more up to date coverage but repeatedly it falls down on this. I did not do a comparison with previous editions but my impression was that many of the reviews had appeared in previous issues - nothing intrinsically wrong with this but the preponderance should be new. If the Guide is an annual then it needs to introduce more new material. Not that it is absent. New issues are covered but the coverage is patchy.

Unaccountable omissions - and I am not talking about 2008 now - include the Decca complete Malcolm Arnold boxes. That really is regrettable.

How wonderful though to see some obscure issues covered such as the Alwyn symphonies 1 and 2 conducted in archive recordings by Barbirolli (Dutton). I would not agree though that they are in good sound.

Inclusive - that's the word - well, up to a point. The seal is set by a review of Komei Abe's Symphony No. 1 on Naxos on p. 1. The Rochberg Naxos series is represented by the Fifth Symphony but what about the others (2 and Violin Concerto)? They deserve at least a mention.

Rodrigo: there’s no sign of the Brilliant box licensed out by EMI. Brilliant produced a pretty good and inexpensive complete Haydn symphonies box at their usual price. The sort of price people might be happy to pay. Those Adam Fischer recordings ARE mentioned but instead we get the Nimbus originals (a sequence of separate and admirable boxes). The Brilliant Classics version of these recordings at even less expense isn’t even mentioned. Why? Why are the budget bargain basement folk so often left out in the cold by these guides. Yes, Naxos is covered but Regis and especially Brilliant seem often to be beyond the pale. The hard pressed budgets of collectors seek a more inclusive approach.

Regis does however get a look-in with a treasured Barber-Measham collection with Molly McGurk's rightly admired Knoxville and much else.

We also get a review of the Harriet Cohen Bax Winter Legends and Goossens’ version of the Bax Second Symphony on Dutton. This is excellent.

There’s no Gösta Nystroem though. Bring him back in from the cold. It’s not as if recording are not available. Mind you Robert Layton never had much time for his Sinfonia del Mare - so perhaps that explains it.

Borodin’s three symphonies from Tjeknavorian are there - and that’s good news even if I would contest the compromised **(*) - it should be a *** and key symbol … but degustibus non est disputandum.

They say that Miaskovsky’s Fifth by Downes is to be preferred to Ivanov and the USSRSO - once to be had on an Olympia CD. Anyone who has listened to the two side by side will agree that the Ivanov sound is deficient by comparison but artistically Downes while powerful lacks the flaming intensity of Ivanov.

There is no mention of the Miaskovsky symphonies recorded complete in a Warner box at a very attractive price - yet the again magnificent single Svetlanov issues from Regis are given entries.

On page 529 there is a review of Roy Harris’s Second Symphony on Albany TROY515. It states that the coupling is Harris 3. No such thing. It’s Morton Gould 3 and an entry on p.472 confirms as much.

On the other hand newish boys on the block such as Lyrita - returned Lazarus-like from the dead and now more fully reconstituted than we could ever have hoped for - are well represented at least among the stereo issues: Benjamin, Bax, Moeran, Finzi, Howells, Ireland and Jacob.

So here’s a Guide that isn’t perfect - not by any stretch - but in the printed media you won’t find its coverage matched or in general its judgment bettered.

Rob Barnett

You won’t find its printed coverage matched or judgment bettered ... see Full Review


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