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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Opinion Piece THE RANT: Death by Shrinkage

So I'm in the Virgin Megastore last night in Times Square, perusing the classical department--or what is left of it. When this store opened, the classical music section took up nearly two rooms. Now, it's two racks and a wall display. Still well-stocked, but small--and I couldn't find the Brahms serenades I wanted.

Daniel Barenboim
In the last ten years, the classical music recording industry underwent a rapid downsizing. Long gone are the good old days when operas would be recorded simply to satisfy a singer's ego (Pavarotti's disastrous Otello comes to mind) or a conductor's. Sometimes the latter projects would move forward even if the singers weren't available--does anyone remember the aborted Decca Ring Cycle that they couldn't find a qualified Siegfried for?

Now granted, the last ten years haven't been a total disaster--there are still good, important opera recordings being made and the market is flooded by a lot less crap. Better digital remastering processes have resurrected many classic recordings, at lower prices, that sounded thin and gritty in their initial CD releases. And improvements in CD packaging (mostly the elimination of the jewel case in large box sets, e.g. the DGG Collector's Edition) have gone from door-stops to pocket size, making room for more good music on the shelf.

But it's still not a perfect world. The death of Tower Records and the downsizing of large retail chains has hurt the sense of community among listeners--to put it simply there are fewer places to hang out and geek about the music we are all so passionate about. Maybe some enterprising individual should start "listening clubs" or "music lounges"--but then if we were all there and plugged into headphones there wouldn't be any dialogue either.

On a more cheerful note, I picked up a couple of interesting box sets--including a compilation of Daniel Barenboim's '70s recordings of Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Liszt, including some rare Wagner transcriptions that I'd never heard before--and a Beethoven cycle by Emil Gilels, left unfinished due to the death of this great pianist.

Photo © Monika Rittershaus, for Teldec International

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats