From Publishers Weekly
British novelist and music critic Lebrecht (The Song of Names) revisits the question raised in the title of his 1997 exposéWho Killed Classical Music? Here he delivers a barbed requiem for the classical recording industry, reviewing its historical and technological arc from "Caruso's first scratchings to the serenity of the CD," while measuring the rise and fall of classical music in terms of its popularity, availability, producers and performers. His dishy, personality-driven prose features both intelligence and point of view, while his commentary and list of the best and worst recordings—arguably the freshest element in the book—make plain the author's pugnacious, critical tastes. With subjectivity acknowledged, the author's pick of the best includes discs that have influenced public imagination or the development of recording. The worst recordings note the "things that can go wrong when we aspire to the highest." Finding favor is a 1987 release of Debussy's La Mer and Elgar's Enigma Variations performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. The Debussy, says Lebrecht, "shimmered like the English Channel at Eastbourne on a summer's day, a pointillist's paradise." Among the worst is a 2000 recording of Verdi's Requiem featuring tenor Andrea Bocelli, whose technique is deemed so insufficient that he "is exposed as cruelly as a Sunday morning park footballer would be in the World Cup final." In its arguments and attitudes, this is a lively approach to this art form. (Apr.)
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The history of recording classical music spans the twentieth century. Competing intensely for market share, EMI, Decca, RCA, Columbia, and DGG exploited technological advantages and vied for star performers. Now, despite clear, undistorted digital recordings that capture only the music, the classical music recording industry has collapsed, perhaps largely because of competition with other forms of entertainment and changes in musical tastes. In a fast-paced narrative history, Lebrecht, assistant editor of London's Evening Standard, first introduces all the personages and describes the rivalries that made and broke the business. Then, in the book's second part, he lists and comments about the 100 most significant recordings and the 20 recordings that never should have been made. These are subjective choices, yet they illustrate the recording-industry history of the first part. A remarkably concise and thorough compendium of the larger events and milestones in the rise and fall of the classical music recording industry, for die-hard record collectors and the more casually interested alike. Alan Hirsch
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