Gramophone Awards 2001

Written by: Mike Langhorne

The Editor has asked me to report on the 2001 Gramophone Awards from the point of view of a member of the great classical CD-buying public. This I am qualified to do being a voracious consumer of said product and the purchaser of every single Gramophone magazine since March 1960. Quite how I would go about choosing the winners is another matter given that the end-users at the Awards Ceremony are relegated to the role of supplying lashings of applause at appropriate moments (and were, here, given stern instructions in advance on when those appropriate moments were to be).

Seriously though, you would have thought that the very people who support this vast industry might have been given a little more thought. Here was a unique opportunity for the industry to interface with its customers. Not just Gramophone, but the various mega-rich, multi-national conglomerates who now own most of the record industry.Things did not bode well to see, when arriving at the Barbican, a sign announcing that no programme had been produced for the event. So, what had the many record companies, or Gramophone, done to brighten-up the vast expanses of empty-foyer to welcome the guests? Anything at all to signify that anyone had given the slightest thought to the people who pay executives’ salaries, the fees of the mega-stars, and the publicity budgets? No documentation.No displays. Nothing. Not even a ’goody bag’ of notepads, ballpoint pens and other publicity material to collect on the way out (which used to be the case). Things must be even worse in the record industry than we have all read about. A real opportunity missed … but enough of this whinging even if I did feel like the poor relation at the party.

The ceremony itself followed the usual pattern, with two co-presenters – Simon Callow (on good form) with James Jolly, Gramophone’s Editor – on the rostrum, with various ’celebrities’ on hand to announce the nominations. At the back of the stage a phalanx of big screens to display recorded messages from winners who were unable to attend. Beneath those was the English Chamber Orchestra, under Shuntaro Sato, who played us in with Bernstein’s Candide Overture and out with one of Malcolm Arnold’s English Dances. At least someone remembered it’s Arnold’s 80th birthday this year!

I won’t list every one of the awards – (click here for complete list). There were a number of personal highlights. It was a pleasure to see awards going to some less familiar but deserving names – both for the quality of performances and choice of repertoire. It was also nice to see the so-called independent labels doing particularly well. Indeed, perhaps it’s a salutary message to the multi-nationals that they may be in danger of losing the plot altogether with their pricey, over-recorded repertoire.

Among the award-winners I was glad to see on stage (or on screen) was Trevor Pinnock for ’Baroque Instrumental’ – Bach Partitas for Hanssler Classics – as much a surprise for him given his fairly recent return to instrumental repertoire; also, Mitsuko Uchida, who won the ’Concerto’ award for her Philips CD of Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto (with Pierre Boulez conducting, who took the ’Contemporary’ prize for Sur Incises). A special award to Uchida from me for the most charming acceptance speech and a lovely and humorous (yes!) performance of Schoenberg’s Piano Piece No.2 from the Op.19 set.

Nice, also, to see Naxos win a Gramophone Award (Chamber Music category) presented by Tony Hawkes (full marks for suit pressing) to the Maggini Quartet playing Vaughan Williams’s String Quartets. Their party-piece was a movement from a Bax string quartet due out on CD shortly. Is there no end to the intelligence and imagination of this company’s repertoire? And all for less than a fiver!

It is also a pleasure to report that EMI’s ’Debut’ series produced a winner. It’s probably even more necessary to encourage newcomers as it is to bolster the egos of established stars. So full marks to an award to the Belcea Quartet for their Ravel/Debussy/Dutilleux CD, one of the several nominated I had bought myself during the year and thoroughly enjoyed. Realistically priced too.

Another relative newcomer fully deserving of an award is the Czech soprano Magdalena Kozena who carried off the ’Vocal’ category with a recital of Janacek, Dvorak and Martinu songs on DG. A truly lovely voice, even-toned throughout its range, which she amply demonstrated by singing us four Janacek songs (and baring an impressive expanse of midriff – Janacek would have loved that!)

The winners of the blockbuster awards – Orchestral, Opera, Instrumental, Record of the Year etc were perhaps more predictable. The ’Orchestral’ and ’Record of the Year’ categories both went to the Chandos recording of the original version of Vaughan Williams’s A London Symphony conducted by Richard Hickox. A worthy winner. As Hickox said in his acceptance speech: a necessary recording. Chandos and Ursula Vaughan Williams are to be congratulated for an intelligent approach to RVW’s first thoughts on his Second Symphony. Incidentally we gathered that Ursula was in the audience – it would have been nice to see her on the platform too; she appears to have been as much a catalyst to this issue as anyone involved.

The Opera award went to EMI’s recording of Massenet’s Manon – Angela Gheorghiu, Manon, collected the award from Paul Gambaccini (no marks for suit pressing) but declined to sing for us. Her husband, Roberto Alagna, winner of the ’Recital’ category, did though offer a strenuous rendition of an aria from Halevy’s La Juive (’French Arias’ on EMI). Murray Perahia collected, from a distance, the Instrumental Award for his Sony recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Incidentally did he really say in his recorded message that the Goldbergs are the “bedspring” of Western music? Boiing!

So to the two categories that everyone looks forward to – what legend is going to collect the ’Lifetime Achievement’ award? Who will turn up as ’Artist of the Year’? No one would argue with the choice of Victoria de los Angeles for the ’Lifetime’ award. A true star, a real artist and a charming personality. How marvellous it would have been for the audience to have joined in presenting her with an accolade she truly deserves; unfortunately, she was ill and in Barcelona. Still, Graham Johnson’s splendid panegyric was almost as good. Now there’s another true artist – let’s hope he soon is recognised for the master musician he is.

And of course – who else but Cecilia Bartoli for the Artist of the Year award. Again who could argue – another true artist, a great communicator, and a cracking personality. She arrived, brimming with vitality, threw kisses left and right, and departed quickly – without treating us to a sample of her latest Gluck CD.

So, a slick, well-organised ceremony – one might quibble over some of the awards, or wonder how they were arrived at. One might doubt what presenters Annabel Croft, Tony Hawkes, Angus Deayton and Richard Wilson have to do with classical music. I still wonder where the CD-buying public featured in all of this … but you could go home having seen some of the giants and giants-to-be of the musical world and given a fiver to charity. Now that’s good value.

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