Could crossover make a classical comeback?

Ten years ago, classical labels were squandering their budgets on anything-but-classical, meandering into a dead-end alley where they made neither money nor friends.

That trend came to an eventual end.

I’m wondering whether we’re seeing a revival of sorts in the quirky sort of thing I’ve chosen as my Album of the Week on sinfinimusic.com. See what you think. Click here.

purcell's revenge

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  • In my opinion the dreaded crossover album has never left us. You only have to look at either the Decca or Deutsche Grammophon websites in recent months to see the depressing trend continues. DG, once the home of great maestros like Bernstein, Bohm, Giulini, Jochum, Kubelik and above all, Karajan, now gives top billing to mandolin players, Berlin cabaret singers, Burgundian monks and obscure concept albums.

    Decca meanwhile, continues to rehash past glories like the Solti Ring in yet another overpriced reissue, and Warner just falls back on lieder recitals to keep the new discs coming.

    Apart from the occasional retro release from better times (i.e. the golden age of post war recording from 1950 to 1990) there is NOTHING of interest for the serious classical collector from the major labels. That’s how it’s been the for the last 20 odd years with these companies and that, I’m afraid, is how it will remain. The only future is in their past.

    • I don’t think that there’s anything inherently wrong with mandolin players, Berlin cabaret singers, and Burgundian monks. The question which I would ask would be whether these are the finest examples of mandolin players, Berlin cabaret singers, and Burgundian monks. I’m afraid my knowledge of mandolin repertoire is limited to Vivaldi’s C-major concerto RV 425. If there’s more like that out there (and I can only imagine that the mandolin must have a repertoire, albeit a little known one) then it would be great to hear more of it. I haven’t been through the whole of Ute Lemper’s discography, but I’m not aware of anything on Deutsche Grammophon within the last twenty years. Her ‘Berlin Cabaret Songs’ (Decca) is simply wonderful. Should she wish to release anything similar on the Deutsche Grammophon label I for one shan’t mind. I have no idea who these monks are, but I assume they are doing plainsong, which has been popular for a long time now. Unfortunately this popularity has given plainsong something of an image problem. However, there are religious communities in which this music has been sung throughout the day, every day, for more than a thousand years. It is surely a good thing if a permanent record has been made of this wonderful contribution to the history of western art music, and, more importantly, that people (often people who have little interest in serious music) are enjoying it.

    • Universal Classics, Deutsche Grammophon and Decca have long ago sold out their long histories and venerated traditions and have opted for the short-term solution of catering to the lowest common denominator, which explains mandolin players, cabaret singers and concept albums as their main offerings. The problem for them is that it doesn’t work and won’t work and their strategy will not bring them any new consumers who will stay loyal and with them for the long haul. That leaves them as lost and always looking for the short term fix and now they just repeat themselves with the same boring, low quality “concept albums” that will, for the most part, be forgotten in five years, just like the executives behind them. The entire business model of Deutsche Grammophon and Decca is archaic and gasping for life. Sadly, it won’t last much longer. Fortunately!

      • The business model of DG is “archaic”?
        Why? It’s not more archaic than it is to enjoy a well produced well published music recording.
        If it is archaic to sharpen the senses and enjoy good music and it is “modern” to cater to the dumbed down minds and attention span of fruit flies, then I find these modern ways redundant. I’m all for archaic business models then. Long life the archaic model of trying to raise intellectually above the dust and to be sophisticated.

    • I see that you must be referring to Taizé: Songs of Unity and Peace. That does look to me like the sort of thing I wouldn’t have expected DG to be recording. There is actually quite a significant movement against Taizé music in the Catholic Church these days. The accusation levelled is that Taizé music is composed with the intention of manufacturing emotions in the listener. It’s something it does rather well. There would be a whole PhD thesis to be written on this topic, but I think there’s a distinction between music to which the listener may have an emotional response (e.g. Schubert’s Mass in G) and music which has been carefully constructed with the intention of evoking a particular emotion. In particular, Taizé music does this by repeating a very simple theme over and over and using techniques such as the congregation humming while a worship leader prays aloud. One hundred years from now it will probably be forgotten except by a handful of ecclesiastical historians studying liturgy in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council.

      The Piotr Beczała album would probably fit the description of dumbed down/catering to a short attention span, but DG has some perfectly respectable discs among its top releases for March 2015.

  • It is a problem of repertoire, ‘classical music’ has become a museum culture since contemporary music disconnected itself from the central performance culture and created a field of its own, which has always been on the margins of music life. There is already a new form of classical music around which can stand comparison with the prewar classics, but people at the established labels still have not noticed it in spite of it being around for at least 10 years: Nicolas Bacri and Richard Dubugnon (France) and David Matthews (England), David der Tredici (USA), and others.

    It is always conventional thinking that hinders fresh outlook.

  • I’ve nothing against crossover as such since I never buy it. What is a matter of concern is that major artists, for example Riccardo Muti, are recording very little now. There is also plenty of real talent among instrumentalists still in their twenties or thirties yet the vast majority, despite proven worth in the concert hall, are leaving no record of their achievements.

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