Monday, 22 August 2011

The High Quality of Contemporary Classical Music Releases

It's hardly surprising that classical music is among the genres least affected by the digital music revolution. Its consumers are for the most part financially well off and happy to pay for CD releases; budgets remain for new classical recordings to take place, funded by relatively stable record labels and a healthy base of philanthropic support; live performance of classical works continues in well-funded halls and venues around the (Western) world; schools and academies around the world continue to support performers and composers to continue the tradition; the classical tradition exists as an always-available pool of repertoire for new recordings, performances and arrangements, with a financially healthy pool of consumers all-too-happy to continue to purchase new recordings of old work; state, private and community radio stations worldwide continue to promote the established tradition, and promote new recordings of work from the tradition; classical music relies on intensive listening and high quality sound played through expensive systems, not MP3s played through earbuds and computer speakers; classical music benefits from wordy written analysis, written by learned academic critics, made available within a discourse of books, magazines, CD liner notes, radio commentary (and websites and blogs); etc. etc. etc... *

There's plenty to get frustrated about here, but there is also an exciting, niche industry for the creation of new classical music. Much of this music works most effectively by engaging with classical music tradition and providing options for ways in which this tradition can be pushed, pulled, tweaked, mocked, followed, discarded, celebrated or destroyed. An understanding of this tradition helps to engage with new composition, but it's by no means essential. I came to classical music through an interest in sound as sound, lured by the shamelessly pretty yet dark and mystifying piano music of Ravel and Satie, the orchestral drones of Ligeti and Penderecki, primitive electronics of Xenakis and Stockhausen and the intriguing processes of Cage and Messiaen. Listening to all this as abstract sound is thrilling, and, in me at least, inspired a pursuit of further understanding, which fortunately the canon is more than able to provide.

The quality behind a lot of contemporary classical CD releases is inspiring, particularly in the current industry climate. The care, effort, commitment - and expense - that go into releases on labels like Bis, hatHUT Kairos and Wergo, is consistently impressive. Naxos too have gone from budget label to major player, regularly releasing the work of new young composers and unearthing under appreciated music from little-known composers throughout history, and from composers from wider parts of the world. Liner notes, recording quality, packaging, all point to a devotion to the music recorded, and whatever issue one has with classical tradition the care and attention to detail cannot be faulted. It's difficult to criticise this aspect, particularly given the incredibly narrow, specialised, hand-to-mouth status of many of the smaller classical labels.

Exemplary of this standard is the Dacapo label, "The Leading Label for Danish classical music", who recently sent me a swag of new releases on chamber music by contemporary Danish composers (reviewed here). Everything about these discs was impressive, as they proudly proclaim at their first rate website:

We present a vast selection of Danish music, encompassing everything from contemporary electronic music to the earliest notes of the Middle Ages. Since Dacapo was founded in 1989 we have released over 450 CDs of Danish music. And with each new CD the picture only gets clearer: There is so much original and exciting music in Denmark that you forget how small the country actually is!

Our recordings are made in the best possible sound quality that is based on proud Danish traditions of a natural, precise and spacious sound. Every link in our productions are of the highest quality, which has among others brought Dacapo a large number of distinctions that include the Cannes Classical Awards, Grammy nominations and lots of Danish Music Awards.

In our new Dacapo Music Store we now offer our full catalouge instantly available with just a few mouse clicks: You can download the music in various formats, from the popular mp3 format to 24-bit digital audio, which will deliver far better sound than you're are used to from CD playback. It has never been easier to explore the world of music - and it has never sounded so good. We would like to welcome you to discover Danish music. And the journey begins right now at your computer.

Enough flattery, but others could learn a thing or two from Dacapo.

* I'm also happy to hear that Harold Moores Records, the independent classical shop I worked at in London, is still going strong while HMV, Virgin, ZAAVI etc. have died. They certainly weren't doing well when I worked there.

No comments:

Post a Comment