Feature Review – The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music 2009

Written by: Mike Langhorne

The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music 2009
Paul Czajkowski, Edward Greenfield, Robert Layton & Ivan March
Edited by Ivan March
ISBN 978-0-141-03335-8
UK £30.00 / CAN $38.50 / US $35.00 [Stated Retail Prices]


I surveyed the 2008 issue of this venerable tome and explained how the Penguin Guide was organised. The basic layout of the 2009 edition is pretty much the same, so readers who wish to know in detail how the Guide is set out may care to refer to my previous review. As far as content is concerned, the title – “guide to recorded classical music’ has been carefully chosen because it continues to review not only CDs and SACDs, mono and stereo, new and reissues, but DVDs are covered too. Downloads are also mentioned in a special note but not individually reviewed.

The new edition, again in paperback, is comparable in size and content to the previous one – around 1,550 pages of reviews set out by composer in alphabetical order, the reviews are by the well established team of Edward Greenfield, Robert Layton and Ivan March, with for the second year running contributions by Paul Czajkowski.

New entries are again identified by an (N) symbol and the star and rosette awards remain the same. The quality of reviewing remains high though again you will not find adverse reviews – recordings earning less than 3 stars are not covered (but I am not sure that you can assume that if the disc you are seeking is not there it is not recommendable). Given the size of the enterprise, it would be astonishing if there were not omissions but as in last year’s there are inconsistencies in what appears and what does not. For example for the second year running Chandos’s issues of Frank Bridge’s orchestral music conducted by Richard Hickox are omitted and Nigel Kennedy’s “Polish Spirit” release of violin music, including music by Karlowicz. Indeed there are no entries for Karlowicz at all despite numerous discs being issued – principally (as it happens) by Chandos. So despite a tremendous effort to be comprehensive there are gaps and you may be disappointed when looking for a particular entry.

One gripe I had last year has been addressed in that mixed recitals by soloists and multi-composer boxed sets by a single conductor are now included. There is a new section at the back entitled “Portraits of Artists and Ensembles”. Here one can find recitals by instrumentalists and singers and a few of the numerous sets covering specific eminent conductors.

Again choice seems haphazard – Clifford Curzon gets five entries covered at great length and taking up nearly two pages whilst Sergiu Celibidache gets a short entry concerning one DVD and completely ignoring the avalanche of CD boxes from DG and EMI (criticism of Celibidache’s ‘slowness’ here exacerbated by reporting timings that include much applause!). The excellent Universal series “Original Masters” also is covered but not comprehensively; Argenta and Ansermet are in but Kubelík and Fricsay are not. Martinon and Monteux are also in – though it is not correct in the case of the latter that his LSO recordings of Sibelius’s Symphony No.2 and excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty are new to CD. The Sibelius has been available in France and Australia for a long time and the Tchaikovsky appeared in Monteux’s contribution to IMG’s “Great Conductors” series.

The inclusion of the excellent “Witches Brew” disc by Alexander Gibson of orchestral showpieces on Decca Eloquence looks like a nostalgic indulgence given that it can only be obtained in Australia! Incidentally the trickle of issues from this pioneering label that appeared in the UK appears to have dried up so one must now take the advice in the preface and import!

One less welcome change is that despite there being fewer pages in the 2009 edition there has been a price hike of 20 percent over the 2008 Guide. To sum up, if the recording you want to check-up is in the Guide you will probably be satisfied but there’s a chance it may not be.



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