Who needs the 158th recording of Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony?

Who needs the 158th recording of Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony?


norman lebrecht

January 25, 2014

The question is put – not for the first time – by my friend and colleague Martin Anderson, publisher, record producer and critic. Martin, in his new blogsite, takes issue with the relentless repetitiveness of classical recording. Sample:




Two or three months ago I was sent for review a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, with Christian Lindberg conducting the Nordic Symphony Orchestra (recently founded in Tromsø, at the very northern tip of Norway) on BIS. It’s a perfectly acceptable performance: Christian is a terrific musician, the playing is more than up to the mark, and any BIS recording will be a sonic wonder. But according to www.arkivmusic.com, which is where I usually go to check these things, it is the 158th recording of Tchaik 5 on the market. What is the point of that? Yes, I know a new orchestra has to earn its spurs, but their first release, of music by local Romantic composer Ole Olsen, was immensely more important than yet another of something already hugely over-represented in the catalogues. And there’s oodles of excellent Norwegian orchestral music waiting to be recorded: why didn’t they go for a CD of Catharinus Elling or Egil Hovland or Ludvig Irgens-Jensen or Ragnar Söderlind or one of dozens more?

It was frustration with this constant recycling of repertoire that led me to launch Toccata Classics in the first place, in 2005, and there have been 158 releases to date, every one of them bringing something new, and I’ll keep going until God decides to bring this atheist up short.




  • Thanks for that, Norman. Anyone wanting to read the rest of my article will find it at http://blog.toccataclassics.com/ (and the Toccata Classics website at http://www.toccataclassics.com). I naturally hope that lots of folk will want to sign up for the blog and join in the discussions there. I would be happy with a small percentage of Slipped Disc’s 1.2 million readers!

    • Pamela Brown says:

      With all due respect, Martin, your point is well taken. Just the same, I can’t think of a single Mahlerian who would raise a finger to object to new recordings of any and all of his works. It’s just more exquisite music to digest and analyze and nitpick and compare with other recordings.

      And then, many of them (and I include myself) might even wonder why arts groups even bother with recording anything else (except Mozart). 🙂

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    ..and BIS released a T5 with Järvi and Göteborg only a few years ago.

  • He’s absolutely right, of course – and I say that as one who yields to no one in his admiration of Tchaikovsky, not least because he so rarely wrote much below his best. Let’s hope that they sit up and take notice.

    The delightful punchline is born of pure Andersonic Scottish logic!

  • I meant to add that, altough I would have assumed there to be a double figure number of Tchaikovsky 5 recordings currently available; the fact of as many as 158 makes the mind fair boggle; I wonder what Tchakovisky himself would have made of this?

  • Petros Linardos says:

    I don’t need yet another recording of the Tchaikovsky Fifth with a modern instruments, but would most welcome a first one with period instruments. (Already have one of the Fourth, with Anima Eterna under Jos van Immerseel.)

  • David H. says:

    There about 20.000 different kind of beer commercially available worldwide. People like beer and people like Tchaikovsky. I fail to see the problem. Martin Anderson has decided to go for the niche specialist repertoire with his fine label Toccata. So he creates an antagonism between mainstream repertoire and his repertoire for argument’s (and marketing’s) sake. I disagree. Beer and Chateau Margaux do coexist and appeal to different tastes. There is no problem.

    I would agree somewhat, if recordings were done out of limited public budgets. Then the repertoire should be chosen not to market demands but to artistic merit. That applies to all the public broadcasters in Europe for instance, but not to private labels.

    • Antagonism is the last thing required in this discussion. I wouldn’t for a moment deny that the reason that much of the mainstream repertoire is indeed mainstream is its quality: composers like like Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and the other big names touch something in their music that not many other composers come close to. I would probably even concede that most of the great symphonies are already in the central repertoire — although Enescu, Schmidt and a few others are still waiting in the wings. Moreover, no one helps neglected music by making exaggerated claims for it — suggesting that, for example, the symphonies by the Vranicky brothers can rub shoulders with Mozart’s or Haydn’s. But you can understand the music of the truly major figures far better when you know the background against which they worked — and then you might also discover that not all the background deserves to be background! The more music you know, the richer your response to any of it. Just keep your ears open — that’s all!

      • David H. says:

        I agree fully. But we should not start to eat each other like rats on a sinking ship do. We have sometimes this tendency. 158 Tchaikovsky 5 recordings should not influence our appetite for Enescu et al. We need more of every music, damn life is so short…

    • Anon says:

      Many recordings are made from public budgets, or heavily subsidised by the orchestras who in turn are paid for by the public purse. How else do you imagine Chandos is able to make recordings with the BBC orchestras and others? This can apply as much to more commercial recordings as it does to less commercial repertoire.

      Indeed, I doubt BIS paid this orchestra very much for the Tchaik 5. More likely much of the artistic cost was bourne by the – publicly subsidised – orchestra.

  • Graham Lack says:

    Dear Norman, it’s the Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra, not Anu and Kadri Tali’s Nordic Symphony Orchestra, which is based in Tallinn.

  • Michael Varcoe-Cocks says:

    So critics are now going to have a say in what is recorded? Are we to accept their views on how many recordings there should be of any work? Popular works get new recordings for a variety of reasons not exclusively artistic or commercial.

    I presume Mr Anderson declined to review the recording and any related fee and will do the same for any future reviews of recordings of what he considers to be “over-represented” works? His comments on the recording are a true master class in dismissive and condescending faint praise, presumably because he resented having to discuss yet another “Tchaik 5”!

    Good luck to his admirable work with Toccata Classics, but others should be equally free to record what they wish.


    1. Isn’t the orchestra called the Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra?

    2. Isn’t this recording of the Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony number 182?

    • No, Michael, I gave it a good review, which it certainly deserved. My point has nothing to do with this particular recording; my target was the endless recycling of a tiny tranche of the same repertoire. Read the blog to see my comments in context.

      • Martin says:

        And i think you’re right. No reason to spend good money on something which already is available for free numerous of times.

        I wonder if this is the same reason why not too many people attend classical music concerts. It doesn’t matter in which town you are, you’re likely to get the same conductors, same programs and the same solists like you’ll ger a few dozen miles away a few days or weeks later.

        As an example: I’d probably attend a Chopin piano concerto peformance next week, but won’t because the program is standard. A Ravel opening I think and a Brahms symphony. If eighter the concerto or the symphony would be a rarely played one or even a new one, I’d likely attend and spend over £100 easily that day just because of it

        (spontanious calculation: ticket price of around £20-40, train ticket £30, food, fun… yeah £100 won’t do it)

      • David H. says:

        I think it is not of much use to lament the way the free market works. Instead I would want to see a public subsidy of the recording labels that produce recordings based on artistic merits for small public interest but high cultural enrichment. Much like orchestras, operas and other musical culture is supported by tax money by the state ( in Europe at least).

        I fail to understand, why the labels like yours that are doing cultural ground work should be treated differently than above mentioned entities.

  • Dean Williams says:

    Let’s be honest. Which album will sell more copies, Tchaikovsky’s 5th or Ragnar Söderlind? It is great to make recordings that will interest a few, but outside of Scandinavia, very few people have even heard of Elling, Hovland, Irgens-Jensen and Söderlind. An album is supposed to be self-financing at the very least and selling hugely and raising the visibility of the orchestra at the very worst. In today’s market, it’s difficult to do with music that very few people have heard of and even fewer have actually heard.

    • Greetings, Dean. You don’t have to tell me how difficult it is to finance recordings of music that very few people know: it is a constant of my life! But if we don’t try, how will this music ever filter through? (And I should add that BIS, although it was one of their releases that I took a pop at, has a wholly admirable record in bringing forward such material.) Some of it — not much, I admit — is good enough to move into the mainstream, but it has to be heard first. I had hoped to be able to refer you to a YouTube recording of Elling’s Violin Concerto, but it has been taken down (probably for copyright reasons). So listen to the excerpts online at http://www.allmusic.com/album/catharinus-elling-konsert-for-fiolin-og-orkester-strykekvartett-i-d-dur-mw0001873011 and judge, as far as you can from such snippets, whether it doesn’t merit a place alongside the Glazunov, Bruch 1, Tchaikovsky, etc., as one of the major Romantic violin concertos.

      • Pamela Brown says:

        I am puzzled with the BIS recordings I have listened to; in particular the Sibelius symphonies of Vanska with the Minnesota Orchestra. These recordings have a fabulous sound quality, but it almost seems empty, and I find that, in repeated listenings, somewhat unfulfilling.

  • Dean Williams says:

    That should have been,”raising the visibility of the orchestra and composer at the very best. Sorry for the typo.

  • Graham says:

    Toccata Classics is a wonderful label. However, they too have made many recordings of works that have previously been recorded before. There are not 158 recordings of Tchaikovsky Symphony No.5. Yes, there may be 158 products, or 182 products when I looked on line today. However, the same recording features on different products – it may appear 4 times, in a box set, at full price, at mid price and in a Tchaikovsky set. This is being counted as 4 different recordings!

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      You’re right – there are probably way more than 158 recordings, or products of this symphony – Arkiv only list what is currently officially available.

    • Graham, I have a house-rule that every Toccata Classics release brings something new to the catalogue. And although there’s obviously a work here and there that has already been recorded, I do my best not to duplicate anything already out there. Or in the works: I’ve cancelled plans of my own when I’ve learned that colleagues on other labels are about to record or release something I had in mind. There’s no point in competing in such a limited market. Life’s too short!

  • NYMike says:

    I’ll stick with Koussevitsky’s Tchaik 5, thank you.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Why? I can see why that recording has a specific musical and historical value, but it’s not like Koussevitzky was the only conductor in history who knew how to conduct this symphony well, and there are plenty of other, equally musically valuable versions, many of them in much better sound quality. Like Mravinsky’s fabulous performance with the Leningrad Philharmonic on DG, for example.

      • David H. says:

        And this little exchange shows us exemplary, why there should be even more Tchaikovsky 5 recordings by different interpreters.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          I don’t understand what you mean. I don’t “mind” if somebody releases yet another recording of this piece. People can perform and record whatever they want.

          But Martin does have a point. There are already more recordings of it than anybody will ever listen to, and more than enough good ones, too.

          • David H. says:

            I mean that you like Mravinskij, he likes Koussevitzky, and somebody else might like one that is recorded tomorrow…

            “More than enough good ones” exposes a misguided thinking in my opinion. There can not be enough good ones out there, because each of them will still be different.

            You seem to think that something like a definite interpretation exists. It doesn’t. Heck even if one gets close, I might think differently about it in the morning than in the evening…

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            “Heck even if one gets close, I might think differently about it in the morning than in the evening…”

            Very true. And that’s why I don’t think that “definite interpretations” exist either. I don’t understand how you read that into what I said. I didn’t say I like Mravinsky but I don’t like Koussevitzky. I was just curious why NYMike was so specific about *this one* recording. I said “it’s not like Koussevitzky was the only conductor in history who knew how to conduct this symphony well, and there are plenty of other, equally musically valuable versions”, didn’t I? I am pretty sure I did.

            Have you heard all versions of this symphony that are already out there? I haven’t.

  • Anonymous says:

    This is a business decision, pure and simple. I understand Mr. Anderson’s frustration, but sadly, and especially in today’s classical music business model, BIS will sell more recordings of basic repertoire by an established composer, than almost any recording of relatively unknown works by a relatively unknown composer. Regardless of the repertoire, the bulk of the sales will most likely be made within the relatively narrow sphere surrounding Mr. Lindberg and the Nordic Symphony Orchestra. I’ve seen this where I live, in Detroit, Michigan, where our orchestra’s recording of Ravel’s Bolero (on Chandos), conducted by Neeme Jarvi has far outsold and continues to outsell any of his fine recordings of relatively lesser known composers such as William Grant Still, George Chadwick, Zdenek Fibich, Albert Roussel and others.

    • Anon says:

      I’m sure it will have been a business decision, but I’m equally sure it won’t have been one based on sales. Not, at least, if it is the sales of the disc that are to pay for the musicians recording it.

  • Frank Pavese says:

    If it’s a good performance of an orchestra and conductor you like, why not? One never stops discovering new things in the classics. What we don’t need are bad ones.

  • Alan says:

    I won’t comment on the actual cd mentioned because I haven’t heard it. My preference for Tchaikovsky 5 is Abbado’s BPO video performance. It’s superb.

    What is wrong with orchestras these days is they have younger conductors in charge who simply aren’t talented enough. They get headhunted because they have the gift of the gab and suddenly they’re conducting the Vienna Phil. Something rotten going on. It’s ruins music.

    • Halldor says:

      Name names. Words are cheap; I can’t think of any serious orchestra that has, in recent years, appointed a conductor on grounds other than musical ones, or anyone in the business who has an interest in doing so. So who isn’t talented enough? And please cite specific performances or recordings to back this up.

  • Micaela says:

    It seems logical to me that cd producers should use standard repertoire, which apparently sells well, to lure consumers to listen to new music.

    This is by no means my area of expertise but if recording a 12 minute classic like Bolero, which people will buy, is the key to get them to listen to lesser known repertoire on the same cd – perhaps a living French composer like Dalbavie or Hersant – then yes, a 158th recording of Tchaik 5 could be useful as a marketing tool.

    Add an overture or concerto by an unknown living composer – tie it in thematically with Tchaik 5 somehow – & sell them together on the same cd. This could also be used as a means of introducing a new soloist or conductor or orchestra. Use it, but make it fresh.

    Modern music purists, much like early music purists can be REALLY annoying. It ALL works – new music, old music, music recorded many times and music that’s unrecorded. You don’t enhance the importance of one by degrading another.The secret is to get people listening to ALL of at.

    The secret, I believe, is in intelligent marketing. And yes, another recording of Tchaik 5 as part of an intelligent marketing strategy, could be valuable.

    • The administration of the Arctic Symphony Orchestra and the folk at BIS might fairly contend that releasing a recording of Tchaik 5 allows the band to be judged against its peers in a way that less familiar music will not allow — and, to repeat myself in the pursuit of fairness, few labels have as honourable a history in recording unfamiliar music as BIS has.

      But everyone seems to be getting distracted from my more general point. Forget that this was a new orchestra on this particular label and look at the statistics in the round. Taking the numbers on arkivmusic.com once again as the yardstick (whatever their shortcomings), there are the following recordings of the Beethoven symphonies, from 1 to 9: 222, 214, 301, 233, 344, 283, 310, 249 and 342. Now Brahms: 252, 211, 201 and 229. Even Schumann knocks up 113, 119, 118 and 149 recordings of each of his symphonies. Micaela’s point that mixing familiar and unfamiliar material is a good way of enticing in reluctant audiences is well taken — but people simply aren’t doing that (the Tchaik 5 in question added Tchaikovsky ballet music). The record industry is watching sales of CDs drop by the day, and no wonder, when there’s so little imagination on display. The independent labels — BIS, of course, but also Chandos, CPO, Hyperion and the like — are far more adventurous than “the majors”, which are the ones with the marketing clout that could really make a difference. Correct me if I’m wrong (someone will!), but the last serious effort to examine unknown repertoire by a major was the “Entartete Musik” series at Decca in the 1990s, when that company found it had serious “Three Tenors” cash to spend. And that was twenty years ago.

  • Marc says:

    Tchaikovsky would have made a bundle on the royalties. So sad that he died too soon….

  • chris pollard says:

    If you think about the work of independent labels over the last, say, 30 years (ie the CD and digital eras), is it possible to identify recorded rarities that have actually become part of the recorded or live repertoire?

  • Robert King says:

    The Independent record companies certainly have done, and continue to do, a really important job in bringing lesser known repertoire to a wider public, and in particular in the earlier repertoire. For instance, look at Baroque repertoire and its massive widening over three decades. As an opener, consider the catalogue of Handel oratorios and operas that was being performed 30 years ago, and then see the considerably wider range you can nowadays hear live at concerts or on the opera stage on a regular basis, right across the world – it was very much the independent record labels that led the field there. And that is only a tiny proportion of what the Indies have done – and continue to do – to create a vastly widened recorded and performed catalogue.

    En passant, I relish Mr Linardos’s thought of more Tchaikovsky on period instruments. We performers would first need to learn far, far more about period Russian playing style from that era if we were to do the instruments and the composer justice. But you can be certain that we would hear some astonishing new tonal colours, and discover balances in the orchestration that would take the breath away.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Or maybe not. Most of the prominent players and teachers in St.Petersburg in the second half of the 19th century were actually immigrants from the west, in the case of wind players mostly from Germany. See, for instance, this interesting paper about the history of trumpet playing in St.Petersburg: http://www.trumpetguild.org/journal/d96/9612Schu.pdf

      There was also a very prominent horn teacher from Dresden there at the time, I can’t remember his name now.

      The very characteristic style of Russian brass playing, for instance, with the wide vibrato and the often very bright sound especially of the trumpets, only developed much later, in the 1940s and 50s.

      So a Russian orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s time would have sounded a lot like a western orchestra of the period.

      • David H. says:

        The whole discussion of the period instruments getting closer to the original is a logical fallacy (even though a very mainstream one), because it fails to understand the role of the perception, which is 50% of the whole music transfer from composer through interpreter finally to the listener.

        It reminds me of the German tale of the “Schildbürger”, who made a dent in their boat at exactly that point, where they sank the bells into the lake, to save them from the approaching armies, so they would know where to find them later… 😉

        It certainly is interesting to hear works performed on period instruments, but interpreters as well as listeners do not have the ears (and subsequent brains) of those times, to perceive them similarly.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          I don’t understand what the story with the boat and the bell has to do with period performance. To me, it’s just a story about stupid people doing stupid stuff, and that is not something particular to a certain historical period. Please elaborate.

          I hate to just throw arguments back at people, but the whole “we don’t have period brains and ears” argument to me seems to be completely nonsensical – and indeed about as “mainstream” as it gets, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that – and very unreflected.

          Because, if we don’t have “period ears and brains”, why then listen to music from past historical periods at all? Why read old books and look at old art – we don’t have “period eyes” either, do we? Why not throw out all that stuff then, paint over the old paintings to update them with modern clothing, give old Rembrandt some trendy North Face outfit and maybe an iPad, too?

          Do you also think that restoring old art, cleaning off the dirt of centuries that is often deposited on top of it and revealing what it looked like centuries ago when it was created is also a “logical fallacy”? Do you think that archaeological and historical research which tries to give us a better better understanding of how people lived in past periods and how historical events really unfolded are also “logical fallacies”?

          I don’t understand how you arrive at the statement “the role of the perception, which is 50% of the whole music transfer from composer through interpreter finally to the listener”. How can you be so specific about that? And yes, I do understand that you don’t mean “exactly 50%” rather than “42%”or “57%”. But that still sounds to way too specific for me. Can we even cleanly separate that whole process into this and that portion of it? What forms the basis for that “perception”? Why is it a “logical fallacy” to attempt to gain a more informed understanding and perception of the cultural heritage that has come down to us? We can’t “escape” that anyway. References to an from the past are all around us. Why not try to sort them out, put them into a historical context, get a better understanding of our relationship with the past?

          Do you also think it is nonsensical to listen to historical recordings, say, from the 1920s, 30s – or even 60s to hear how they played back then? Our brains, eyes, and ears aren’t from those periods either.

          • David H. says:

            This format is not suited for en detail discussion. But why app. 50%?

            Because simply perception is one half, The other half is the creation. Without the listener there is no music. Only vibrating air molecules.

            Of course everything we try, to perceive sonic art written at different times and possibly with different sonic representations in mind, is laudable in that it gives us an understanding, why a composer might have written down a certain part in a certain way.

            But it is *nonsensical* to try to describe some kind of sonic “truth” by simply dating the instruments back to the time of the creation of the score. That’s a basic failure to understand the way music perception works. The truth is not in the sound. The truth is in the perception and subsequent recreation of the original musical idea, and that perception is based on imprints from education and human exposure to a sonic environment beginning months before birth.

            Only recreating a certain snapshot of exogenic sonic environments and then expecting that that will bring back some absolute “truth” is doomed to fail, since our perception is not corresponding. We are in the here and now and our brains expect to deal with sonic perceptions the way we were brought up.

            The music, the idea of it, can be created with all kinds of instruments. It doesn’t have to be the exact instrument that was used during the time composer wrote the music and he imagined. It must be an instrument that does bridge between both, the composer’s idea and the recipients brain. This is all basic cognitive science.

            Understanding how the sonic environment was during the time of the creation helps us to understand the composers ways. But it doesn’t help us necessarily to perceive the music.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            “But it is *nonsensical* to try to describe some kind of sonic “truth” by simply dating the instruments back to the time of the creation of the score. That’s a basic failure to understand the way music perception works.”

            That’s probably true, but assuming that that is what is the idea behind historically informed performance practice is a basic failure to understand what historically informed performance practice is about.

            “The truth is not in the sound. The truth is in the perception and subsequent recreation of the original musical idea, and that perception is based on imprints from education and human exposure to a sonic environment beginning months before birth.”

            So that means that you think that listening to music from historical periods is generally pointless no matter if it is performed on modern or period instruments since the sonic and cultural environment we have grown up in is so very different from the ones the composers have grown up in? What follows from that is that we have no chance of understanding the music under no circumstances anyway.

            What follows from that is also that it is generally pointless to read books or look at art that was created in previous historical periods in environments that are fundamentally different from the one we have grown up in. Or not just historical periods – really any cultural environment, historical or contemporary, that we are not intimately familiar with.

            “Only recreating a certain snapshot of exogenic sonic environments and then expecting that that will bring back some absolute “truth” is doomed to fail, since our perception is not corresponding.”

            But historically informed performance practice isn’t simply about “recreating a certain snapshot of exogenic sonic environments”. And nobody expects that that will automatically bring back some “absolute truth”.

            “We are in the here and now and our brains expect to deal with sonic perceptions the way we were brought up.”

            So that means you can’t listen to instrumental sounds that you haven’t heard before in whatever you consider to have been your formative period? That then also applies to historical recordings, or really any recordings made before you were born or in environments outside the one you grew up in?

            “Understanding how the sonic environment was during the time of the creation helps us to understand the composers ways. But it doesn’t help us necessarily to perceive the music.”

            So if you had the chance to listen to a recording of Mozart or Beethoven playing their own music, you wouldn’t do it because you think you wouldn’t be able to “perceive the music” anyway?

            OK, that is a very hypothetical scenario since that will obviously never happen. But, as I pointed out before, you can also apply that to pretty much any cultural product originating from outside your own immediate contemporary cultural environment.

  • Pamela Brown says:

    It seems to me the problem exists not only with recording, but with performing. Arts groups have always had to struggle to find a balance between the war horses that their patrons probably love and bring in money and new or underperformed great works that tend to cause them to walk out in a huff. Even though the scene seems more tolerant now than it was, for example, at the time of Gustav Mahler and what would become the NYP, this angst is ongoing.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      You should take a look at the NYP’s online archives – you will be surprised how much new music (for the time, of course), including several of his own works, Mahler actually conducted. And it was already called the New York Philharmonic back then.

  • Derek Castle says:

    Catch 22 – “if you want to hear a Russian orchestra in our (state subsidised) hall at affordable prices, you’ll just have to put up with a Rachmaninov/Tchaikovsky piano cocerto and a Tchaikovsky 4,5 or 6, or Shostakovich 5 or 10 for the next 100 years (or the end of the world, whichever is longer). We should shout Hosannas and Hallelujahs, if one Russian/British management allowed them to play Manfred or Scriabin, let alone something as off putting as ‘Western’ music.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      The two last concerts I heard with Russian orchestras were the Mariinsky with Gergiev in Berlin, with “Francesca da Rimini” – Tchaikovsky, but not one of his “greatest hits”, in fact, that was the only time I have ever heard this piece live – and Act 3 from “Parsifal”.

      And the St.Petersburg Philharmonic with Temirkanov in Boston, with Rimsky-Korsakoff’s “Russian Easter Overture – one of my all-time favorite pieces!!! – Shostakovich’ first cello concerto (with Weilerstein), and Brahms 4.

      Wagner and Brahms – seems pretty “Western” to me.

      • Derek Castle says:

        Michael, never one to allow fellow-posters much ‘poetic licence’ (or license). I was simply trying to make a broader point that concert agents and their ilk seem terrified of not getting bums on seats, to such an extent that unimportant oldies like me sigh “Enough is enough!” and give yet another trip to the reliable warhorses a miss. Of course, some wonderful new artist such as Lang Lang might bring unforeseen insights to the Moonlight Sonata, but I’m prepared to suffer the loss and stay at home with a cup of cocoa. If it’s presented to the world on CD, that’s a different matter. The recording isn’t subsidised from public funds and it isn’t our local facilities (halls, etc.) that are being used. Gergiev seems to be the most adventurous of the Russian conductors. He brought his Mariinsky Parsifal (complete) to the UK two years ago and has done Berlioz (R&J and Damnation of Faust) with the LSO this season. Touring orchestras are, understandably, limited to what their host countries are willing to accept on the programme. You seem to have been lucky with Temirkanov. We are usually blessed with Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony as a starter, and then two well-known works of the aforementioned. Have you ever heard the Glazunov symphonies in a Moscow/St Petersburg concert? (a rhetorical question before you give us the lowdown) or Borodin 2? The British ‘manager’ of the Prague Philharmonic recently revealed in a pre-concert talk that certain composers, even works, have to pass the acid test of financial viability. A British orchestra attempting to bring Vaughan Williams to Prague, e.g., wouldn’t get into the country. Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra brings a smile to the face of their bank manager, Music for Celeste, Percussion and Strings a frown. All that said, there’s nothing quite like hearing a great Russian orchestra playing great Russian music live.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          I can’t remember ever hearing any piece by Glazunov like in concert!

          I do understand the need for “safe” programs on orchestra tours though. Frankly, I am surprised that they make any money from orchestra tours and that they can still do them.

  • Paul Ingram says:

    We shouldn’t forget that much of the standard/non-standard Classical rep. is truly tiresome (or only good/communicative in small parts), bombastic, box-ticking, derivative, pretentious, arcane, peculiarly and fustily male-oriented, a hurried response to ancient commissions, and/or of far more interest to performers and musicologists (and the composers themselves), than to listeners. Hey, we may love some of that stuff anyway, but good luck spreading the word. The Classical music business can be its own worst enemy: its survival to 2014 is a miracle whatever the rep. Huge kudos to R. von Bahr and Martin and all the rest for heroic, transformational, inspiring work.

    Yet these days we prob. have too many professional performers, and not enough amateurs – the relation to the market is always going to be uneasy unless Classical really is (and is perceived to be) committed to abandoning exclusivity, widening participation etc. There’s still too much snobbery in there, like it or not. Also, life is w-a-y too short to really get to know all these CDs in detail (or very many of them at all), and it’s perhaps fortunate (miraculous) that acquisitive collectors snap them up, whether or not they can ever listen to them.

    But the key to economic survival and growth is indeed The Listener, not the performer. And especially The Young Listener. When you’re young you can soak up any amount of music, standard or non-standard rep. – that’s where recordings are really useful. Recordings can let you learn to love Beethoven and Schoenberg and Vasilenko, all at the same time. Thank heaven for Spotify and Radio 3 etc., democracy-wise, for the current young generations.

    Most kids will still not engage with very much Classical music at all because they don’t really know it’s there (or what’s there). Unless they’ve the good fortune to come from a musical family, or they bump into real enthusiasts, early enough in life. The challenge is to get the repertoire (and the history) on the radar of teenagers, starting with far more listening and study and fun in schools, linked to occasional live shows. Or with new initiatives, guiding the young in an engaging manner, into and through the online music maze.

    And then – one’s relationship to a recording is a very personal thing, it’s almost independent of ‘repertoire.’ Recordings can become trusted companions through life, whether Tchaik. 5 or Glanville-Hicks or Velvet Underground or Iron and Wine. Some Classical recordings are so damn good, everyone should hear them. They can spark the lifelong fire of love for the art – so let’s find ways to make those recordings better known, to the young. There’s a battle for all of us against shrinking attention spans, unstructured knowledge bases, all kinds of media overload. Somewhere in all that Classical at its best, live and recorded, can shine.

  • Brian Caesar says:

    “We shouldn’t forget that much of the standard/non-standard Classical rep. is truly tiresome (or only good/communicative in small parts), bombastic, box-ticking, derivative, pretentious, arcane, peculiarly and fustily male-oriented, a hurried response to ancient commissions, and/or of far more interest to performers and musicologists (and the composers themselves), than to listeners.”

    – well, that’s just an opinion, and nothing more than an opinion