How to buy a record review

How to buy a record review


norman lebrecht

October 24, 2011

The editor of Gramophone has resigned.

That’s a pity, because James Inverne greatly brightened up the old rag and reclaimed a good deal of independence from the record business. There was a time when major labels got prior approval of reviews that appeared in Gramophone. That, I understand, is no longer the case. Gramophone’s integrity has been restored.

James apparently wants to do other things with his life. You can read the press release below.

More alarming is the continued practice at the US classical record magazine Fanfare of offering reviews for cash. Here’s how it works. When Fanfare receives a copy of your CD, it asks you to take an advert ‘at special rates’. The bigger the ad, the larger the coverage. No ad, no guaranteed review. Simple as that.

The most shocking thing? That many artists and labels accept these terms and conditions.

The terms are stated baldly in a pro forma letter to a composer friend of mine. I have deleted his name. The rest is verbatim. read it, and fume.


Dear Mr. X: 
Would you like your new CD to be reviewed in Fanfare?  And would you also like to be interviewed by America’s premier classical CD review magazine (including exposure for four months in the magazine and at our Web site)? Read on!
I will soon receive a review copy of your new CD. Please consider advertising it in the magazine and evaluating the following interview proposal – your support will be much appreciated. 
As you may already know, Fanfare, The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors, now in its 35th year, is regarded by many as the world’s finest and most respected publication devoted to coverage of new classical releases. (Skeptical? Just go to and read any of the sample reviews from the latest edition.) Each issue is about 500 pages long and contains reviews of  400 – 500 CDs, SACDs, and DVDs. If you’re interested, I’ll mail you a complimentary copy of a recent issue and/or give you temporary access to our on-line edition, including the Fanfare Archive, which contains all of the reviews and interviews from the current issue as well as all of the articles from dozens of previous issues.
Here are your special display-ad rates (ad specs can be found below this message):
Inside front cover $1500 (net)
Full page color $1000
1/2 page color $700
1/4 page color $500
If you advertise, I will personally guarantee that your CD will be reviewed. I will also guarantee that your ad will appear not only in the magazine but also free of charge on our Web site at Please take some time to explore “Our Advertisers” at the top of the home page and “Fanfare Advertisers” at the bottom, which provide links to the advertisers’ sites. And then click any review on the home page, and you’ll find the rest of the review on the next page plus an ad from the current issue. The bottom lines: Our Web site is friendly to our advertisers, and note the number of performers and composers participating with links to their sites.
Why else should you advertise? Because, as our subtitle suggests, we cater to a very specialized clientele of extremely sophisticated collectors. These music lovers don’t buy a few CDs every month, they buy thousands – and I’m sure that you’d like yours to be among them. We can help you reach these collectors.
Never advertised before? We can also help you with that by recommending an excellent graphics company that’s also very reasonable.
But we can do more. If you advertise at one of the four levels listed below, I’ll assign you to an interviewer, carefully chosen to match your interests, for a feature story. Our interviewers go far beyond the puff pieces common today; our typical interview runs about 2,500 words. How many times have you had the opportunity to talk about what you do with someone who truly understands your problems and issues? And, best of all, you’ll be able to use the interview and review almost as soon as they’ve been submitted and edited – you can quote as much as you like, even before they appear!
Here are the four options for advertising if you’d like to be interviewed (and have your CD reviewed):
1) Inside front cover ad or inside back cover ad in two consecutive issues (total cost $3000). (All of the inside front and inside back covers for 2011 and the Jan/Feb 2012 inside front cover have been reserved.)
2) Inside front cover ad or inside back cover ad and full page color ad in two consecutive issues (total cost $2500). (All of the inside front and inside back covers for 2011 and the Jan/Feb 2012 inside front cover have been reserved.)
3) Full page color ad in two consecutive issues, or a two-page spread in a single issue (total cost $2000).
4) Full page color ad and 1/2 page color ad in two consecutive issues (total cost $1700).*
When you’re interviewed, the review of your CD will be attached to your feature in the front of the edition instead of being published in the regular classical CD review section of the issue.
The editorial deadline for the Nov/Dec issue is Aug. 1. Advertising for that issue should be reserved by Sept. 1 with graphics due Sept. 8. The editorial deadline for the Jan/Feb issue is Oct. 1. Advertising for that issue should be reserved by Nov. 1 with graphics due Nov. 8.
If you decide to accept the proposal, I won’t proceed with any aspect of it unless I find a critic who’s receptive to your CD.  Please let me know if you’d like to make your artistry known to a special audience.
Joel Flegler
P.O.Box 17, or
17 Lancaster Rd.
Tenafly, NJ 07670
*Ask about the various payment options for installment plans. Fanfare also has low charges for premium positions from pp. 1- 25.




James Inverne steps down as Gramophone editor, becomes contributing editor


After nearly six years as editor of Gramophone, the world’s most authoritative classical music magazine, James Inverne has decided to relinquish the role.


“Having just completed an exciting redesign of the magazine, to be unveiled in the forthcoming November issue, the time felt right for me to move on,” said Inverne, who will retain links with the magazine as contributing editor.


“Six years is a long time for an editorship, and having come from a journalistic background where I worked across the arts, I feel a drive to once again broaden my horizons. I’ve also missed writing more than being editor allows time for. With Gramophone in fine shape I am confident it is well-positioned for a wonderful future.”


During his tenure, Inverne has won two major awards and has helped to guide on- and offline development of the Gramophone brand that has included redesigning the magazine, and the launch of an online audio/visual player.


Gramophone’s publisher Kate Law comments, “James will be missed and has been a great asset for Gramophone. But we understand that after six years he wants to move in new directions and we wish him the very best as he does so. He leaves Gramophone healthy and vibrant for whoever succeeds him as editor.”


Editor in Chief, James Jolly comments, “James’ eye for what makes for a great story made a real impact on Gramophone. His tireless work in promoting the magazine in the media ensured that Gramophone reached an ever wider public and retained its position as the most influential magazine in the classical world. All the staff at the magazine wish him every success and look forward to his future contributions to Gramophone.”


A new Gramophone editor will be announced in the coming weeks.


Gramophone is an incredible brand to publish,” said Law. “It has a fantastic heritage, and a profoundly knowledgeable team. I’m proud of the way that it is successfully expanding onto new platforms, and in doing so attracting new audiences worldwide. The new editor will be in an excellent place to capitalise on those strengths.”


The redesigned Gramophone magazine is on sale from 2 November.


James Jolly continues in his role as Editor in Chief. Editorial queries relating to Gramophone should be directed to (Acting Editor) Martin Cullingford at





  • Jude Ziliak says:

    Thank you very much for posting this.

  • David Dies says:

    I recently went through this with Fanfare. What your article doesn’t say, is that if you don’t buy an ad and they review you, you’ll get panned. My CD got a scathing review. When I was talking this over with colleagues, a friend said that she’d gone through exactly the same thing, and that Fanfare had been so bold as to suggest that if an ad were taken out, that Fanfare would re-review the CD with a reviewer “guaranteed” to like it. Granted, this is hearsay, but completely consistent with my experience.

    This is a protection racket, plain and simple.

    • Actually that is not strictly true…. I have never paid for advertising and all my reviews (bar one who didn’t like a particular interpretation) have been fine. I think a lot of music press is struggling to survive with a dwindling public interest in classical music, and has to do what it can. I don’t necessarily agree with this practise but it happens everywhere else in life, so why not here?

      • David Dies says:

        I was contacted by Joel Flegler regarding this post requesting a formal apology for my remarks.

        To clarify, I am presuming causation when I have no grounds to make the claim that my refusal to buy advertising with Fanfare resulted in my CD being panned. I apologize for presuming causation without evidence and making this claim in public, and furthermore, I apologize for characterizing Fanfare’s actions as a “protection racket.”

        I should also note that my particular CD is a solo CD of new compositions. I feel that my work is solid and approachable, and the music on my CD recently received very high praise by Emmy-award nominated composer Roberto Sierra. Obviously the critic at Fanfare had problems with my CD, and clearly not every recording of new music is for everyone.

        I would invited you to watch for a forthcoming review of my CD in American Record Guide in January, and even consider hearing my music yourself. Albany Records has uploaded my piano variations on a theme by Persichetti to YouTube (, and other tracks from the CD can be heard on my ReverbNation page.

        • Correctly or not, I see this scheme as something more similar to payola than a protection racket. Payola is the now illegal practice of recording companies paying radio stations to air their music. It’s essentially a system of requesting bribes.
          Payola systems keep appearing. A few years ago, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and the FCC both shut down the practice (again.) A group of radio stations involved agreed to $12.5 million in fines and a “set-aside” 4,200 programming hours for independent artists. More about this can be found here:

          Reviews should not have any relationship to who buys advertising, so Fanfare’s practices seem to naturally lead to suspicions of racketeering like those Mr. Dies raised. It seems like Mr. Dies received some legal threats. Would this be a sort of legalistic knee-capping in defense of a quasi payola racket?

          • David Dies says:

            Just a further word or two: I’ve had a brief but very healthy email exchange with Mr. Flegler. While his initial email did describe my first post as “slanderous,” I did write that post shortly after having received an advance copy of the Fanfare review. Emotions were running high, and I acted pretty rashly. When I didn’t advertise and the review was so harsh, I saw cause and effect that even days later seemed pretty spurious.

            Also, in the course of our short exchange, Mr. Flegler has assured me that my next CD would be assigned to a different reviewer, and as he has no particular reason to make this assurance, I interpreted it to be a offer in good faith to ensure that I feel more that I’ve been given fair treatment.

  • Jonathan Zoob says:

    A further disturbing element is that buying an advert doesn’t just get your CD reviewed, it also secures an lenghty interview in the magazine. So there is a blurring of editorial content and advertising rather than an editorial team siting down to consider who are the interesting musicians to interview at the moment and which CDs deserve to be reviweed.

  • Geoff Miles says:

    I’ve worked in this industry for many years, and have watched budgets for important technical and artistic considerations dwindle as times have become increasingly hard. Artists are often frustrated that such a large proportion of their funding is diverted by a label to cover “marketing” or “administration” costs. With little transparency, one wonders how much is spent on “buying” good press, whether it is this blatant or not. If it really resulted in a wider audience and increased sales you could (unethically) argue that the end justified the means, but I suspect it mainly serves to secure the livelihoods of reviewers and publishers. It seems increasingly that artists who have confidence in their own product choose to bypass this whole part of the process, and with reviews that are morally this bankrupt, who can blame them!

  • Don Drewecki says:

    20 years ago, “Fanfare” offered wishy-washy and truth-concealing reviews of many of the BMG/RCA Toscanini Edition reissues on RCA Gold Seal. A number of titles were issued in fake stereo or not transferred from the best surviving original master sources.

    The reason “Fanfare” didn’t tell the whole truth is because one of its frequent contributing editors, Mortimer Frank, just happened to serve as the program note annotator for that Toscanini Edition.

    Among informed record collecting circles in the US, “Fanfare” has been corrupt for years. That’s not to say they haven’t had their share of excellent and _morally principled_ reviewers (e.g. the late William Youngren), but, basically, it is indeed corrupt.

  • Tony says:

    Publications as august as the Times have made themselves famous too, not just glossy CD review magazines. There was a very detailed (totally fictitious) review of a London concert conducted by Rozhdestvensky including berating a Beethoven piano concerto performed by his wife Postnikova – however the conductor had been unwell and was out of the country with his wife recuperating, and his place had been taken by another maestro conducting Carmina Burana. Another when a Barbican concert review slagged off John Lill for spoiling the orchestral concert with his insensitive playing, when Lill had been in North Wales performing at the time and the Barbican performer had been someone else. In the latter case the only apology was a microscopic correction on p.94 hidden somewhere.

    We all have stories like this and they are good entertainment. I think it is time Fanfare exercised its right to reply.

    • Jonathan Zoob says:

      The John Lill story gets better: the other pianist (who actually played Beethoven 3) was Radu Lupu. Now they do share the unusual distinction of having four-letter first and second names. But i would find it very difficult to attend a Lupu performance and come away thinking i had heard (or seen!) John Lill.

  • Norman, thank you so much for doing this kind of coverage. If we want to know what is really going on behind the scenes, this blog is where to look! I just put up a post about this. I think the solution is more and better music criticism. We can fight dishonest reviews with honest ones. Here is my post, which also includes a collection of some of my music criticism:

  • It’s apalling to see this black on white, but surely there must be practices somewhat like these in other magazines as well?

  • Colin Eatock says:

    Here’s another publication that’s similar to Fanfare in its modus operandi.

  • Don Hansen says:

    The above is why I subscribe to the American Record Guide and not Fanfare. A few years ago I heard the story from a small CD company that Fanfare would maybe review the CDs he sent them but that it would more likely do so if he took out an ad.

  • David says:

    What’s happened to Fanfare is a classic example of power corrupting. When it started, 30 something years ago, it was a genuine attempt to provide a better review coverage of classical recordings than was then available, but as the years passed, and, presumably, the money started to roll in, the editor, one Joel Flegler, decided that he was on to a good little earner.
    I stopped reading it quite a few years ago when Mr. Flegler became obsessed with, of all things, Bollywood Musicals, and started devoting large amounts of space to them; and additionally started using reviewers whose main purpose was to stir up controversy rather than produce serious reviews.
    What is even worse it that Mr. Flegler’s ‘pay up or else we won’t review policy’ approach is limited to small companies: he wouldn’t dare try it on the larger companies because his readers will expect Sir Simon or whoever’s latest release to be reviewed and will look elsewhere if it’s not.
    Very sad.

  • Kimba 66 says:

    If you couldn’t see the connection between ads and editorial space in Fanfare long before this, you weren’t paying attention. I don’t think there is any publication where the editorial content isn’t at least partially for sale. Just take everything with a healthy grain of salt and don’t let anyone tell you what to think about anything.

  • We advertise in Fanfare. They review our releases. We get a number of reviews per issue (we usually release two CDs a week so there’s plenty for them to cover), and are reviewed by a wide number of writers. Most reviews are favourable, but not all – we do occasionally get panned. The ratio of good to bad reviews is roughly the same as reviews of our releases elsewhere – where no advertising has been paid for.

    I accept the quid pro quo – we got a good number of reviews before we started advertising in Fanfare, but I know that by placing ads in the magazine we’re both helping to guarantee its continuing publication and their continued interest in our releases. The coverage we get is, I believe, worth the price of entry, and I take the good reviews with the bad. We also pay similar amounts to place similar advertisements in another specialist classical music magazine which I’m happy to support. Whether this guarantees coverage or not has never been made explicit – at least we know where we stand with Fanfare.

    As for American Music Guide – I was informed that without a US distributor we would not be considered for review. We sell our releases direct, on CD and as high quality downloads, and the main market for us is the USA, but this cut no ice with AMG, whose editor hates downloads and the Internet in general. Ironically the only way I can get AMG is to subscribe – online…

  • Reviewer says:

    Kimba 66 says: “I don’t think there is any publication where the editorial content isn’t at least partially for sale”

    This certainly doesn’t happen with Music Web International, which has a deservedly spotless reputation.

    • Dr. Marc Villeger says:

      Re: MWI, as independents and a team of two, we have had two favorable, perceptive reviews from Jonathan Woolf and one praising yet antagonistic review from Dominy Clements that prompted a letter from us, kindly published by MWI. Our recent experience was strange since we were requested to send two copies of our latest CD just to have it never reviewed. Meanwhile, the “50/50 thing” was reviewed with a mild disclaimer while it was advertised for months on MWI. In an email to the founder, I pointed out the likely origin of the reviewer’s disclaimer and that even Joyce Hatto had “hers” reviewed back then… to no reply. Draw you own conclusions.

    • John Sooglee says:

      MusicWeb most certainly doesn’t deserve a “spotless” reputation, since it was certainly part of the Joyce Hatto hype and hoax. Even though there’s no evidence that it was actually a knowing part of a scam, it was certainly used as an unwitting participant. The CDs were heavily sold and promoted through its website, and the many “over the top reviews” (and not a single reviewer ever catching on to the scam in any respect, despite — as was later pointed out — several obvious “tells” for those who should have known) does not, in my mind, give it a “spotless” reputation.

      • Herbert Pauls says:

        Distinguished critics everywhere bought that hoax, hook, line, and sinker. I too, at home in my armchair, was amazed for a time. As far as hoaxes went, it was a brilliant one. Remember that she did once have the chops to play a fine Bax Symphonic Variations, a very difficult work. We are all gullible to a degree.

  • I’d echo Reviewer’s comment – and add that the kind of comments we get in reviews on MusicWeb International (where we don’t advertise) tend to match up more or less with the reviews we get in Fanfare. I note too that at least one of MW’s prolific reviewers is now also writing for Fanfare. It would be hard for him to square a good review for one against a panning for the other.

    Anyway, magnums of champers all round for any reviewers willing to gush over this week’s new releases – just call this number…

  • Herbert Pauls says:

    I have been reading every issue of these magazines (Fanfare, ARG, Gramophone) for the past 25 years. Fanfare I value for its vast scope – much larger and more detailed than Gramophone. When the issue of payment for reviews came up here, I did a quick check of a recent Fanfare issue. For example, I looked at Dutton, a small label that I greatly value for its repertoire. They bought an ad. But their reviews were not all perfect. I also looked at the general ad versus review ration. Seven reviews for every ad. Almost 500 hundred pages (in relatively small print!) of solid reviews without a single ad mixed in. Many of the top independent labels (Naxos, Chandos, Hyperion) all of whom had several (good) reviews, did not even have an ad in that particular issue. So much for snap judgments.
    There may well be cases where a review was “purchased” so to speak, but this can in no way account for most of the reviews. There are simply far too many for that to be the case. They obviously review a great deal of material that is not bought. I suspect that the issue is at its worst with so-called vanity productions. And Fanfare readers are far too experienced to swallow those uncritically. But if that was all Fanfare consisted of, we would have tossed it eons ago. For me, reviews and interviews of said productions function as much as announcements of their existence as anything else. I find them incredibly useful and cannot get that from Gramophone.
    The depth of knowledge that flies around Fanfare magazine is more than a little intimidating. One gets an idea of the caliber of the readers who regularly write long letters (which are published together with equally lengthy reviewer responses) roundly criticizing reviews that they think are off the mark.
    Someone mentioned Mortimer Frank here. I always thought that it was Fanfare’s good fortune to have one of the world’s premiere Toscanini authorities on staff. He knows as much about every corner of the Toscanini legacy (official and unofficial – see his book) as Harvey Sachs. That is why RCA hired him to to the annotations. I cannot imagine that interested Fanfare readers did not know this 20 years ago. No need for full disclosure because regular readers knew who Frank was. As for sound quality, all kinds of CD remasterings (remember the glassy sounding but highly praised EMI Heifetz CDs?)were were eagerly received throughout the classical review industry. They were not as good as they are now but then, collectors were thankful to have them at all.
    I have never harboured any illusions that there was, and is, a certain amount of back-room dealing in the review industry, whether it is acknowledged or not, and feel no need to feign surprise when such comes out in the open. Fanfare is simply up front about it. I am glad for my subscription.

  • I agree totally with Andrew at Pristine Audio, I don’t like Fanfare’s approach very much but I respect Joel Flegler for being totally honest and up front with their offer, which is made without pressure and some of our artists have accepted the package and been glad of it, others have declined; yes the package guarantees a review, but it is nonsense to say that without paying a review will be refused. The majority of our releases are reviewed, mostly very positively and with depth and perceptiveness as a rule. This cannot be said for the so called ‘big’ UK magazines who have gone downhill so much its unbelievable, (I only hope that Gramophone rediscovers its soul and purpose). Without checking and from the top of my head I reckon that around 75% of our releases (averaging 40 a year) are reviewed in Fanfare, and only about 5% in BBC Music and Gramophone; we are lucky to get one review a year in BBC Music – and our advertising budget for all three is about the same, as a company with offices in both UK and USA. There is in fact only one decent uk review mag, IRR, again a publication for which I have much respect even if we dont get as many mentions as I would like. Only MusicWeb attempts (and succeeds usually) in reviewing more new releases than Fanfare for us. My main problem with the article is that it suggests a shady undercover ‘corrupt’ system – but if it is totally open and transparent (which it is) this seems to be trawling for dirt and no more. There is another reason why a musician might get a poor review!

  • I find absurd this self-righteous taking of offense at certain practices on the part of Fanfare’s editor. I’m sure that all those who bristle at Mr. Flegler’s suggestion that an artist pay for an ad in consideration for a review and/or interview expect that they themselves must be compensated for their own professional services, whatever work they engage in. How, then, do they expect a publication the size and scope of Fanfare to maintain a viable presence without the input of substantial capital? Funds from subscriptions alone would never suffice. Advertising money is a necessity and I commend Mr. Flegler on his enterprise in offering artists the possibility for the kind of exposure the ads and interviews provide.
    I am in no way connected with Fanfare. I’m the founder/owner of a small classical CD label and I previously worked in distribution. In both capacities I have placed ads for my label and other labels with Fanfare, and have sometimes arranged for interviews with artists I’ve been associated with. Obviously, since so many artists take advantage of Mr. Flegler’s offer, they must find it of value to their careers. In my own experience many of my CDs have been reviewed without my having to pay for an ad. And I can state with absolute certitude that the assertion that a good review is tied to the payment for an ad is untrue. In this regard, I’m absolutely certain that Mr. Flegler does not impose his will on reviewers to review a recording according to his dictates. Fanfare critics are free to write whatever they please and to evaluate a CD on the merits or faults they find in it. I know it’s possible for the Editor to assign a CD to a second critic to sometimes balance the evaluation of a controversial performance, but this in no way compromises editorial integrity.

    • Janis says:

      How, then, do they expect a publication the size and scope of Fanfare to maintain a viable presence without the input of substantial capital? Funds from subscriptions alone would never suffice.

      This then begs the question … as a potential reader, why would I bother to read it, then? I mean, if it’s just an incestuous little revenue shuffling machine?

  • Don Drewecki says:

    Herbert Pauls writes: “Someone mentioned Mortimer Frank here. I always thought that it was Fanfare’s good fortune to have one of the world’s premiere Toscanini authorities on staff. He knows as much about every corner of the Toscanini legacy (official and unofficial – see his book) as Harvey Sachs. That is why RCA hired him to to the annotations.”

    So why, then, in 1991-92, did “Fanfare” not mention that five or six of the “Toscanini Collection” reissues were in fake stereo; that a number of them were NOT transferred from the best master sources; that the reissues of Toscanini’s Philadelphia recordings came from the same recycled production tapes John Corbett made, for reference purposes only, in the early 1960s; that the 1949 Rhenish broadcast was not taken from the 30 ips master of the last three movements; and that the audio tracks for the first two AT/NBC television concerts ALSO were not sourced from the best-sounding masters?

    “Fanfare” was the place where the truth might have been exposed. It did not do so.

    I actually agree with another poster that EMI has also botched many of its historical remasters (e.g. the terrible transfers of Schnabel’s late Beethoven recordings in the “Icon” set; the horribly botched STEREO transfer of Kreisler’s ACOUSTICAL MONO recording of a Mozart violin concerto from 1924). Still, “Fanare” hit a new low in concealing the defects of supervisory work by Jack Pfeiffer at BMG/RCA, and that is an eternal blot, for me, on its integrity.

    • Herbert says:

      Point taken. A thorough review should have pointed some of those things out.

      Nevertheless, I do think our expectations have risen with the likes of Obert-Thorn and Marston. The list of bad transfers was endless but often praised indiscriminately in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The first RCA Rachmaninoff 2 and 3 now sounds almost unlistenable. The early box of Schnabel’s complete Beethoven Sonatas, which I bought at full price, is also terrible, but somehow I appreciated it then. It is inexcusable if, as you say, the recent Schnabel “Icons” are still bad, seeing as remastering standards have improved so much. At least recent RCA budget boxes of Toscanin sound much better. The new 3 CD Toscanini Philadephia is now fantastic. I could not believe the difference. Toscanini at his warmest, matching the vitality and urgency.

  • Ksawery Wielowieyski says:

    Everybody do the same. But only Fanfare is honest and make everything clear.

  • Don Drewecki says:

    Actually, Herbert, “Fanfare” actually had Marc Mandel — the BSO program annotator — review that second reissue of the AT/Philadelphia recordings, and he was allowed to point out that BMG didn’t even seek out the multiple mint copies of test pressings and metal parts in the official Toscanini Legacy Collection at Lincoln Center. That second reissue, produced by Andreas Meyer, was a botch, too, but of a different kind.

    As for Schnabel, compare EMI’s horrid transfers of the late Beethoven sonatas in the “Icon” box with the earlier transfers on Pearl, done by Seth Winner and Allan Evans. Those Pearls are VASTLY superior to anything put out by EMI. Where was “Fanfare” on this? To be fair, where was “Gramophone” on all this, too?

    • Herbert Pauls says:

      I somehow missed that review, but will look it up. I had no idea that such masters still existed. Botch or not, the new 2006 issue does sound well to me, but I guess BMG (where is Naxos when we need them?) wants to sell the set yet again in a few years…maybe the bigger problem is among majors like them.
      It could well be that Frank, had he reviewed the 2006 issue, would indeed not have mentioned the problem. I will stick with his book, which I have not looked at for a long time.

    • Daniel Morrison says:

      I think some of the above comments reflect unrealistic expectations regarding reviewers, Fanfare reviewers in particular. Fanfare contributors are not paid anything significant, and writing for Fanfare is necessarily a sideline, not a day job. Reviewers may not have access to inside information regarding the sources used for a release of historical material or the possible availability of superior sources. As a reader, I am often frustrated when reviews of such releases fail to compare the sound quality with earlier incarnations of the same material, but reviewers do not necessarily have those earlier versions available for comparison. The notion that Marc Mandel had to be “allowed” by Fanfare to reveal shortcomings in the Toscanini/Philadelphia reissue is ridiculous.

  • Charles Timbrell says:

    Although Lebrecht’s expose wasn’t the primary reason for my resigning as a Fanfare critic several days ago–after 20 years– it was certainly a contributing factor. For my part, I can say that the editor’s general policies were known to Fanfare critics, but the specifics of his offers to recording artists were not. I found it smarmy, from the very beginning. On the other hand, I must say that I was never asked to write a negative review, nor was I ever told whether an artist or a CD company had or had not placed an ad. At worst, I might get a CD marked by the editor: “Review only if positive.” There were quite a few that I decided not to review for that reason. At which point, I suppose the CD was sent to another critic with the same admonition.

    Charles Timbrell
    Washington, DC

  • Anonymous Muso says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    There’s an elephant in the room… It’s called Gramophone Magazine. Can nobody see it?

  • Don Drewecki says:

    I think we must ask whether we want “shill magazines” — which print lots of features and record reviews dovetailed to those features, or do we want total honesty. I want the latter, along the lines of the late B. H. Haggin, who was a model of integrity, versus a lot of the lousy reviewers for “Stereo Review” and “High Fidelity” 40 years ago.

    • Daniel Morrison says:

      I never had much use for Haggin. He was rigid and doctrinaire, a member of the “only Toscanini” school of criticism. His vilification of composers like Sibelius and Shostakovich was distasteful. He was a bit disconcerted when confronted with a Toscanini recording of the Sibelius Second. Another of his ill-considered opinions was that only the first (1869) version of Boris Godunov was acceptable, and not Mussorgsky’s own revised and expanded version.
      In my view, “High Fidelity” had some excellent reviewers, including David Hamilton and Harris Goldsmith.

  • Daniel Morrison says:

    About eight months ago I became a Fanfare contributor, after having been a reader for several decades. I have not been pressured or encouraged in any way to write either a favorable or unfavorable review. I do receive some items with instructions to review “only if positive,” but there is never any follow up to push for a favorable review. The opinions I express in my reviews are my own exclusively, formed after extensive listening to the recording in question and usually to a good many other recordings of the same music.
    I find that reviewing for Fanfare is quite time-consuming and demanding. Aside from the review recordings and monetary payments that are too small to be of any significance, the compensation I receive is the satisfaction of exploring and writing about music and its interpretation and sharing my knowledge, such as it is, with others.

  • Once I stumbled by chance upon a review of a CD of mine which appeared on Fanfare, I promise I did not pay to have anything written about my work and I doubt that Meridian had anything to do with it either. Nevrtheless I am surprised to read that this forum is scandalized by these practises in the Classical music business…
    “Play the last track on this disc for a friend or significant other. Probability of recognition is high, for it is an all-time favorite hit, Malagueña, from the Suite Andalucia. Ask who wrote it, though, and you’re more apt to draw a blank. The answer is Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, who was born just outside Havana, and lived from 1895 to 1963. In his day, Lecuona was an immensely successful musician and a quite prolific composer. He wrote literally hundreds of works, mostly for piano, but also songs and zarzuelas. He graduated in 1912 from the Havana Conservatory, and in 1916 came to New York, where he appeared in recitals as an accomplished virtuoso pianist. Word traveled west, and by the 1940s Lecuona was on the payrolls of MGM and 20th Century Fox writing scores for Hollywood films. He won an Academy Award in 1942 for his song Always in My Heart. Back in Cuba, he founded the Havana Symphony Orchestra and a ballroom dance ensemble he named The Lecuona Cuban Boys Band.
    Spanish, Latin American, and Cuban melody and dance rhythms are at the core of much of his music, but his education at the Havana Conservatory was a formal European one. He knew music history and his predecessors. Córdoba from the Suite Andalucia, for example, vacillates somewhere between a Schubert impromptu and a Brahms rhapsody. Ante el Escorial begins like Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie, and soon takes on the character of Liszt. There is not a single item on this well-filled disc that is less than captivating, and most are beautiful precious gems.
    Pianist Clara Rodriguez began her studies in Caracas, where at sixteen she won a scholarship from the Venezuelan Arts Council to continue her studies at London’s Royal College of Music. She has been busy ever since, concertizing widely, and in 1993 founding the Teatro San Martin de Caracas Music Festival. This is a thoroughly enjoyable CD, and Meridian’s sound, which I’ve complained about in previous solo piano releases, here seems to me to be perfect. Warmly recommended.
    Jerry Dubins
    (Jan/Feb 2005) Fanfare Magazine.

  • Janis says:

    This is why the ONLY way to buy music is by word of mouth from one’s friends, or by random accidental stumbling upon people on YouTube. The hell with these garbage glossy mags and their advertorials. All junk. The sooner they die out the better.

  • Joel Flegler says:

    Finally! I’ve been restraining myself (it wasn’t easy!) from commenting here until I read Janis’s post. Thank you, dear Janis, for this singularly insightful, intelligent, and informed message, which really shows a degree of appreciation and knowledge that I’ve rarely encountered anywhere (including OC Register, for example). It’s also the first time that anyone has ever described Fanfare as “glossy” (although I’m confident that you’ll find others who agree with your assessment of its being “garbage”), a quality that, frankly, it could never come close to achieving like so many of its competitors. And don’t worry: I’m now in my 70s, so who know how much longer the magazine or its founder will be around?

    Like Janis, “junk” is a four-letter word that I use to describe a lot of magazines, but it’s also a word that I apply to a lot of mail. And posts, I hasten to add. But I apologize for digressing from the main point of this message, which is to reveal that it wasn’t until I read Janis’s post that I finally broke down. I know, I know, by contributing to this “forum,” it will only encourage others to submit disparaging (a euphemism, to be sure) posts, but that’s the price Fanfare will have to pay for my lack of self-control. I’ve always told people that my motto is “Nothing in moderation,” which is both my personal and professional ethos. If anyone’s still reading and would like to see for himself why I contend that Fanfare is the greatest classical CD review magazine in the world (and, quite likely, in the universe), all he – or she – has to do is go to the magazine’s Web site and purchase a one-year subscription. When you get the 672-page Nov/Dec issue, let me know if you disagree with my assessment and I’ll refund your payment in full. “Word of mouth” certainly has value, but the words that come from the mouths of Fanfare’s contributors may lead you to major discoveries that you’d never know about from your friends or YouTube.

    • Tony Fletcher says:

      It’s nice of Mr. Flegler to respond by attempting to drum up more business while answering precisely none of the issues raised here. Business, that’s the point, eh, Joel! Your message is long winded and says nothing. I’d expect better from an editor: perhaps if you started editing your magazine with discernment, it wouldn’t need to run 672 pages, then you wouldn’t need to indulge in such obviously dubious and compromising business practices. Everything’s bigger and better in America isn’t it? You just lost yourself a reader.

      • Occasional Fanfare Reader says:

        My, Mr. Fletcher! One wonders what private ax you are grinding here? Fanfare has so many pages not because it requires “editing with discernment” but because so very many CDs are reviewed in each issue, many of them quite obscure but worthy of attention. I’ve never been a contributing reviewer to Fanfare but my husband has been from time to time. He has never been pressured to give a positive review, but occasionally has been asked if his review will not be positive, to return the CD for another opinion; since this happened only occasionally, I suspect those were artists or labels who’d taken out an ad. Sometimes both the negative review and a counter-balancing more positive review were both published -but never was he asked to alter his review or even specifically to write a positive one, and never was he asked to compromise his own values or judgements (had he been, that would have been the end of his contributions to the publication).

    • Andrew Powell says:

      “Like Janis, “junk” is a four-letter word … .” Huh? There are five letters in Janis. Aren’t editors supposed to know how to deploy prepositional clauses?

      On the other hand, the guy makes a valid point: “[Fanfare] may lead you to major discoveries that you’d never know about from your friends or YouTube.” Are we better off with rambling, bribery-fueled, U.S.-based Fanfare than without it? Of course. Let’s wish Joel Flegler many more years behind the desk.

      And in a parallel vein, every CD that appears is intended to bring pleasure. So what is lost if a review accentuates the positive? Caveat lector!

      • Joel Flegler says:

        Andrew Powell obviously didn’t appreciate my deliberate ungrammatical point to underscore a nasty and complex joke that I hope at least Janis got. (But perhaps Andrew also missed the sly application of “garbage.”) Ah, subtlety is so often wasted on the young!

  • Byzantion says:

    Instead of industry-linked Fanfare, Gramophone, BBC Music and the like, why not get your reviews completely free from 200+ reviews every month, a minimum of 300 words per review – though quite often 600 or 1000 – and as a reviewer I can testify that reviewers get no payment (apart from the CD to keep) and are free to write whatever they like about any disc without fear of censure or censorship.

  • Herman says:

    That’s delicious, Byzantion. Since when is not paying contributors a mark of good quality? It means you’re looking at a bunch of eager beaver wannabees.

    And Musicweb is, of course, a highly suspect operation, since it’s not just a review site; they’re also selling cds. The Hatto Hoax was a major success for Musicweb, since these phoney recordings were praised to the skies, and sold accordingly.

    • Herbert Pauls says:

      Gramophone also praised the Hatto discs to the skies, and make no mistake, they take in tons of advertising dollars from record-selling merchants. Here is the distinguished Bryce Morrison, one of the most respected and quoted piano critics in the world (quotes taken from the Gramophone archive, ocr errors included):

      On the Messiaen Vingt Regards”
      “Hatto takes her place among the greats Joyce Hatto’s CD legacy may be mired in controversy (“the forgeries of jealousy”?) but there is nothing controversial about recordings which surely place her among an elite of women pianists (only six artists of comparable stature spring to mind). Nor is there anything debatable about a wealth of tributes from composers and pianists (Hindemith, Tippett, Vaughan
      Williams and Britten; Cortot, HasIca, Rubinstein and Richter).”

      On the Liszt Transcendentals and the Godowsky 53 Etudes:

      In Preludio, the dazzling curtain-raiser, Hatto yields nothing to any other pianist in fearless authority, while the notorious difficulties of Fez’s follets are resolved with a surpassing fluency and vivacity. She is no less gloriously responsive to La ricordanza’s heady romanticism (for Busoni, “like a packet of yellowed love letters”) and Etudes Nos 10-12 are natural triumphs of an unswerving vision and poetry, concluding performances that form a rare tribute to their symphonic weight and breadth, the quasi-orchestral might of Liszt’s outsize opus.
      The same attributes apply to Hatto’s Chopin-Godowsky. And whether you consider Godowsky’s elaborations delectable or outrageous – or both -you will only hear pure music from this pianist. Listen to her in lgnisfatuus (No 4) where, as Harm herself ruefully puts it, Godowsky adds a few extra hours to your practice, or in the “touch of paprika” she notes in the coda of No 7; in No 27 where Godowsicy turns innocence into experience and sophistication with a vengeance, or in No 8 in what Hatto calls “a riot of bravura ingenuity” -you can only listen and wonder. Amazingly, she has all the time in the world to make her points in the turbulence of No 20 and what gentle sparkle, what unforced brilliance in “Badinage”, where Godowsky so mischievously gives you two Etudes for the price of one.

      Experienced listeners everywhere fell for the ruse. It never dawned on most observers that someone would actually spend years creating such a mountain of fakes. It is not always a bad character trait to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume someone is telling the truth.

      I cannot imagine that Bryce Morrison’s imprimatur (and that of Jeremy Nicholas and Jed Distler too) didn”t have even more influence on the sales of Hatto than Musicweb did. Gramophone has very good circulation for magazines of its type.

      And she really was a fine pianist at one time.

    • Byzantion says:

      Dear Herman,
      I didn’t say it was, but I’m sure you’ll agree that paying contributors isn’t either. I don’t know if there are any “eager beaver wannabees” writing for MusicWeb – most seem to be doing it for the love of it.

      Selling CDs doesn’t make MusicWeb a “highly suspect operation” – certainly none of the reviewers gets a penny/cent from any disc sold. There’s no financial or any other incentive or pressure for reviewers to write either a good, middling or bad review – MusicWeb will publish it unedited as the reviewer’s honest opinion/judgment.

      And as Herbert Pauls rightly says, the Hatto Hoax affected everyone equally.

    • AVI says:

      BBC Music Magazine (and online) also sells the CDs it reviews.
      Does this make it a “highly suspect operation” in your view?

  • Jerry Dubins says:

    As a long time contributor to Fanfare, I feel I must speak out to correct the misinformation that has been promulgated on this thread. Artists are offered an opportunity to purchase advertising in the magazine and asked if they would like to be interviewed for a feature article. That much is true, and in practice is certainly no different from record companies that purhcase full-page color layouts in Grammophon or any other publication. If the artist accepts the invitation, he or she will be interviewed by the magazine contributor most familiar with the artist’s work, recordings, and repertoire. Obviously, a review of the artist’s CD appearing at the end of the interview can be expected to be favorable, since the contributor doing the interview would never have been chosen in the first place if he or she were not receptive to the artist’s work. However, in many cases, a second review of the same CD by another contributor, completely unbeknownst to and independent of the interview contributor, will be submitted, and it may or may not be positive.

    It is absolutely NOT true, however, that artists are told that if they refuse to purchase advertising that their CDs will not be reviewed at all. Hundreds of CDs are sent to the magazine every month for review, of which only a tiny percentage are backed by the artitst purchasing an ad. CDs are reviewed FAIRLY and irrespective of advertising support. Never, ever has it been suggested to me that I pan a CD or simply not review it because the artist has declined to purchase an ad. In fact, if most of the posters to this thread had any idea of how things actually work, they would realize it’s just the opposite. The review is written first, and if it happens to be an especially glowing one, only then is the artitst offered the opportunity to advertise and be interviewed. If the artist accepts, great; then the magazine makes some money, and the artitst gets extra exposure in the form of an interview to go along with the already positive review. If the artist declines…and this is the notion it’s really important for readers to be dsabused of…the glowing review, which was already written, still gets published. It’s not like the already submitted review gets trashed because the artist was unwilling or perhaps financially unable to purhcase an ad.

  • Elaine Fine says:

    So that’s how it works! The musicians, who have put their own money, time, and talent into making recordings are the ones who end up paying for the ads and interviews. I’m involved in every part of the music making life except for the business part, and it does really bother me that the people who have the least in monetary terms (though often times the most in talent and ability) are at the very bottom of the musical food chain. I say this as a composer (an activity that earns me little money, but makes money for the people who publish my music), a performing musician, an activity that earns me little money compared to the time I (happily) put into it, and as a reviewer for the American Record Guide. I’m also the Advertising manager for the magazine, and as such would never think of contacting the musicians who made the recordings I review to ask them for money in exchange for an article. I’m glad that we don’t “go there.” Still, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with using a record reviewing magazine as a place for interviews. It just bothers me that we live in a world where it’s the musicians themselves (or to use the “industrial” term, “artists,”) that end up paying for them.

    • Anon says:

      Elaine – then who do you think ‘should’ pay?
      Because if it’s not the musicians, then presumably you want the record labels to pay. But they will only recoup that from artist royalties (and if they don’t you can still take the view that if they make a fortune selling an album and pay ‘themselves’ to advertise it, that they aren’t paying the musician enough in the first place); so the musician always ends up paying in the end.
      Furthermore, many musicians might prefer to work with a small independent label on a non-exclusive contract – such a label can’t afford to advertise heavily, and has no guarantee of the artist staying with them for the long-haul to make it worthwhile in any case – so perhaps the quid pro quo for the artist is that they get that freedom and greater control over the product, but have to find some more cash themselves.

      Performers will always end up paying for it – whether directly, recouped from royalties, or because it’s part of the budgeted ‘marketing spend’, which is only reducing the size of the pot available for the performer anyway.
      Asking the performer to advertise direct is merely shortcutting the merry-go-round; the result is rather similar.

      • Elaine Fine says:

        There are musicians who create their own recording companies and do all the promotion for their recordings. Some successful ones are Michala Petri’s company and Gil Shaham’s company. There are also recording companies who make money from what musicians do, and pay a small fee to the musicians who make the recordings. Naxos, for example, at least during the 1990s when they were coming up in the world, paid Eastern European musicians (Including some truly great Hungarian musicians) a fee for making recordings, and promised them excellent exposure and marketing. I do not believe that they had a royalty agreement with the musicians they hired, but they did what they promised to do, and ultimately everyone benefited from it–even though the musicians didn’t make anything beyond the recording session fee. I imagine that with their huge growth spurt Naxos does things differently now.

        There are all sorts of recording companies. Some ask musicians to send in a production ready recording and put up a set amount of money to cover the costs associated with the business of recordings (licensing, making the CDs, printing the cover material, archiving, and advertising). Some musicians raise the money to make their recordings from universities or foundations, but if they are unable to do this, their recordings just won’t be made.

        There are many small recording companies that pay for ads, and I believe they should, particularly when the complete recordings are already given to them. If all goes well, they make a profit. It is kind of the same way that books work these days.

        Unless they have their own recording companies, and their recordings sell very well, musicians don’t really expect to make a great deal of money from selling recordings.

  • Jerry Dubins says:

    In reply to Elaine, apparently she didn’t read very carefully what I said. CDs are sent to the magazine and doled out to the publication’s contributors for review based on general areas of interest and expertise. All of these CDs are reviewed, positively or negatively, with no pressuring or censoring from the editor. I think Elaine may have connected two unrelated things in her post. Artists may be offered an opportunity (OPPORTUNITY being the operative word) to purchase advertising in the magazine and, if they accept, they may or may not (it’s up to them) accept an offer to be interviewed for a special feature. Whether the artist’s CD is reviewed is NOT contingent on his or her acceptance of the opportunity to advertise and be interviewed. That is completely voluntary. On countless occasions, I’ve reviewed CDs for which the artist was offered the opportunity to purchase an ad and be interviewed, and for whatever reason, the artist declined the invitation, but the review of the CD was published regardless. You need to separate these two things—reviews and interviews—in your mind.
    Hundreds of CDs are received for review every month. I’d estimate that 85 to 90 percent of them get reviewed and, of those, only a small percentage involves the artist being solicited to advertise. It’s simple, really. Send a CD to the magazine to be reviewed and there’s an enormously high probability that it will be sent to one of the magazine’s contributors to be reviewed without the CD’s artist ever being contacted. And if the artist is contacted and declines the offer of an ad and an interview, the CD is still reviewed regardless. Having worked for the magazine for nearly 10 years, I can honestly say that I would be very surprised if, in a pique of petulance, the editor ever threatened an artist by saying, “If you refuse to advertise, I won’t allow your CD to be reviewed.” If that’s the way it worked, an issue of Fanfare would be lucky to be six pages instead of 600.
    Having said all that, I must say that I think Elaine’s post is a bit naive. In a perfect world, personally, I think it should be the record companies rather than the artists who pay for the ads. And many of them do. That’s when you see full-page, color layouts advertising one or another label’s forthcoming releases. But nowadays, a lot of CDs are self-produced and, advertising to “get the word out,” as it were, is part of the cost of doing business. You are aware, no doubt, that many fine artists don’t have a major record label with a multi-million dollar advertising budget behind them. Some artists, having no record label association whatsoever, have to go to their own expense to put out a CD. And even those artists who are associated with smaller, independent labels, or who appear on a number of different labels because they don’t have an exclusive contract with any one label receive little or no advertising support. It’s no different than if you went into business for yourself making widgets. To get customers, you’d have to advertise on line, pay someone to build a website for you, and visit merchants to try to persuade them to stock your product. It’s called self-promotion and, for better or worse, good or bad, it’s the capitalist way of life.

  • Elaine Fine says:

    I was not connecting unrelated things. I was speaking as the person who contacts record companies to ask them if they want to place ads in the magazine!

    Oh how I wish I were naive! In a perfect world music would be something to experience live, in real time, and in every city and town. Musicians would be valued for what they do, and not how well they promote what they do. Music wouldn’t have to be sold like a consumer good, and musicians wouldn’t have to hustle to get work, or to get an audience.

    But we don’t live in a perfect world, even though musicians tend to soldier on with the hope that what they are doing–composing, rehearsing, and practicing as well and as much as they can–will make the world a better place. The work itself is personally rewarding. Having to promote what we do is best left to others, but others, being practically-minded people for the most part, will only do it for money. If musicians don’t make enough to eat, they certainly don’t make enough to hire publicists.

    We are now at a point where music and recordings are essentially different things. Eventually people will realize that a recording is a dead document of a piece or a performance, and a concert is a living experience. I hope that I am still alive and in playing shape when that time comes.

  • MG says:

    9 years later and this still goes on – to me this is extortion – albeit, of the petty, low life, trailer park variety – tho’ he’s upped the ante – they now go to the trouble of trolling you with bad reviews on AMAZON directly, which directly affect your sales. We politely turned down the ‘offer’ to advertise in April (hell, we cant exactly even promote the release live, let alone advertise) – within four weeks, a bad review was posted, significantly bringing down the average percentage. And if you think thats whining, here’s the body of the last email before we said no and before their target post:

    “…….the next step will be for you to mail five copies of the CD so that I can try to get you an extra, favorable review to accompany your feature in the September/October 2020 issue. Please get back to me by April 14 if you’re interested in proceeding.
    Note that both the review you’ve just received and the second review will be published in the magazine and posted at Amazon if your album is available at that site…