CD Shopping

4 Jun

One of the sadnesses of 21st century life is the paucity of specialist classical music CD shops.  In Central London, only Harold Moores seriously caters for the classical music lover.  I find it hard to believe that we are all really so addicted to internet shopping or downloading that a major capital city cannot support more than one shop to supply a population that must include at surely tens of thousands of classical music lovers.  One of my great pleasures used to be to wander into MDC or one of the specialist shops with no particular intention of buying  anything, but open to temptation, and leaving, with my wallet rather lighter and my shopping bag quite a lot heavier, simply because I’d seen all those CDs that I didn’t know I wanted at prices that, on balance, were too good to miss.

Internet shopping, for me at least, isn’t the same and, if my wallet is heavier and my shelves filling at a slower rate, life has lost a bit of its joy.  On the internet, somehow, the eye isn’t caught by that reissue of a CD you’d never have bought at full price, or that collection that contains two or three things you realise your own collection desperately needs, or the import or live performance that you didn’t know existed.  Maybe I just haven’t got the knack or found the sites that will do that for me.

I was reminded of this on a visit to Newcastle.  I get there pretty regularly because (a) I have family there and (b) Opera North visits.  There are two places there that I always look at.  First, there is JG Windows, not what it was, but still a decent source of the odd off-beat or unexpected recording or the special price – where you need at least half an hour to browse and weigh up the options.  The second is HMV which, unlike many of its other branches, still has a classical section in an area a bit removed from the general sound system and where, again, you can find the occasional keenly priced item.  My normal routine is to have good browse in HMV, then wander to Windows to compare and, if necessary, return.

This time my eye at HMV was caught by Decca’s reissue of La cenerentola with Bartoli and Chailly.  I’ve coveted it for a while but, with three others (Gui, Abbado and Ferro, since you ask), could never quite bring myself to pay full price for it.  At HMV, it was a tenner.  Windows charged slightly more, but then they had the Hampson recording of Thomas’s Hamlet, substantially cheaper….  What interested me, however – and this is the real, musing purpose of this blog – was that the alternatives, or lack of them, to the Bartoli Cenerentola.

In both shops the only alternative was the Glyndebourne version conducted by Gui from 1953.  And it was about £2 more expensive.

I looked online.  As you would expect, I could have got all of the recordings a bit cheaper (shaving off about £1.50, so barely a massive consideration) by going to itunes or Amazon or one of the specialist online dealers.  What interested me was that, unless you want the original Decca Bartoli recording (presumably because it has a libretto), it’s quite difficult to find a respectable Cenerentola for more than about £15.  And, apart from Amazon which had it quite sensibly priced at £7.50, the Gui was more expensive than all the more modern versions.

Now one of the things that has improved in my lifetime is the standard of Rossini performance.  With conductors like Ferro, Rizzi and Scimone, mezzos like Larmore, Valentini-Terrani and di Donato, tenors like Matteuzzi, Gimenez and Florez and buffo baritones like Corbelli, Dara, Alaimo and Pratico, it’s very hard to go wrong with any recording made after 1980. So what on earth is going on here?  There are lots of things I like about the Gui recording – not least Gui’s own conducting, Bruscantini’s stylish Dandini and a nice sense of ensemble.  It’s of historic interest as probably the earliest Rossini recording with a true sense of ensemble and style.  But the Angelina is ordinary, it’s not complete and Ian Wallace’s Magnifico sounds quite leaden compared with his successors.  Even in 1976, Harold Rosenthal didn’t think it was completely recommendable.  At the moment, even Glyndebourne aren’t stocking it in a season when they’re doing the opera.  That must tell you something.

It took me a while, but then I realised that the only reason that I could think of for the premium was the fact that EMI have included an extra CD with text, translation and synopsis.  They have done the same with the really pretty dreadful Giulini Italiana in Algieri, which no-one in their right minds will buy other than for masochistic reasons or to prove beyond doubt that we do Rossini better nowadays.  Most of the others don’t include a libretto or make you go online for one.

So there are two questions.  First, would anyone pay more for an older, inferior recording simply because it has a CD with libretto and synopsis?  Personally, I wouldn’t but then I have a libretto and know the piece pretty well and rarely follow CDs with libretto in hand.  But maybe I’m not the demographic EMI have in mind.

Secondly, is it any wonder that nobody goes to CD shops if you have a choice of only two recordings of quite a major opera?  It seems to me that there is a vicious circle going on there: shops aren’t making enough money from classical CDs to justify the space, so they stock fewer, which means that fewer people buy from them because there is less choice.  And so the random CD buyer like me, buys less.

Anyway, unless you’re allergic to Bartoli (and this is her in the 1990s  before she became more mannered), I do strongly recommend this Cenerentola – it’s fabulously good.

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