Wednesday, September 10, 2003


One of the features of modern music journalism that Ian McDonald decried was the arrival of short, telegrammatic, industry-led ('puff') reviews, at the expense of real critical dissection and response to the music. The web, while proliferating material and pandering to the industry, has partly -- and surprisingly-- counteracted the '150 word culture' in two major ways. First, by expanding the space available for review activities (thus removing the pressure to describe without analysis); and secondly by permitting us to judge the longer term output of individual reviewers (including the perspectives and listening habits they have cultivated) in order to contextualise their remarks. Basically, it's easier and quicker to check back.

Of course the scope for inconsistency has also quadrupled... but that's the fun of the fair. On weblogs people tend to review stuff they like (or really hate). But you can quickly tell what other things they appreciate, how widely or narrowly they listen, whether particular labels seem to feed their reviewing habits, and whether those inevitable superlatives are matched by questioning and probing.

As in all media, much depends upon the reader's ability to read. I've been following The Wire since its inception, for example, and in going back to early issues I'm amazed to discover how my knowledge has been extended... those editions seem positively 'mainstream', where once they were 'out there'. One of the magazine's undeniable strengths has been its capacity to keep ahead of the game, to expand our listening and literacy. Interestingly, the current print issue is almost twice the length of the first, about half the type-size, and cram-packed with weird independent labels, new composers and ever-more angular artists. Its ability to infuriate remains in top gear, too. Check their archive, links and web excusive area (all displayed in non-grab javascript).

An altogether different and more traditional, 'old school' approach is that of on-line Classical CD Review. Their index and archives give an idea of the scope. They rely on a handful of writers who bring clear perspectives to the material. The overall emphasis is on "historic performances [with a] .. primary focus [on] orchestral, operatic and solo instrumental music."

Latest additions include: Two CDs of music of Varese, one with Boulez and the Chicago Symphony, the other with the Polish RSO conducted by Christopher Lyndon-Gee (DG & Naxos). Music of Japanese composer Yashiro - Piano Concerto and Symphony - played by Hirmoi Okada with the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Takuo Yoasa (Naxos). Charles Ives' Symphony No. 2, 'Washington's Birthday', and other works performed by the Northern Sinfonia conducted by James Sinclair (Naxos).

Some of the more contemporary voices are reflected in collections rather than dedicated CDs. The choice of Yashiro is interesting, as the peerless M&V Daily comments elsewhere: "Japanese composer Akio Yashiro (1929-1976) was rather a conservative figure on the twentieth century music scene, once denouncing John Cage's work at a public concert when Cage visited Tokyo, with the words 'this is no music'. (A fellow pupil of Qunihico Hashimoto in Tokyo was Toshiro Mayuzumi, destined for the front rank of the Japanese avant garde.)"

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