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AUGUST, 1948

No. 303


THE accumulated correspondence of an absence of nearly two years is a formidable sight, and the comforting theory that if letters are left unanswered long enough they answer themselves is not borne out by my experience. For instance, my colleagues have kept a l i t t le bunch of letters that they think I should read with attention, three of which, written last Spring by old supporters of THE GRAMOPHONE, will certainly not answer themselves .

This is what Chiswick says: " Although I am an old reader of your excellent magazine this is the first t ime that I have got so far as writing to you. And though you have, on the whole, my heartfelt approval, yet there is one matter which I feel is unsatisfactory.

" I refer to reviews of new records. Generally these are very good-interesting and informative.

"Unfortunately, your reviewers have a habit of discoursing at great length upon the subject of the record and dismissing the standard of playing (or singing) and the qualiV' of recording in a few lines. This is certainly exactly opposite to what I wantand what, I feel, many other people want. Again, your reviewers often display a snobbish quality in dealing with works by Gilbert and Sullivan, Delibes, Gounod, etc. I quote: • All this is very faded for me but I suppose they have a place in most hearts.' • This doesn't strike on my box . . . ' You should remember (I) that many people have found their way to the music of the Masters by way of the standard cheery overtures and ballet music, and (2) that we (the customers) are not part icularly interested in the reviewers ' personal likes and dislikes ."

This is what Edgbaston says : "I have nOw been a reader of your excellent periodical for close on twenty-five years, and i t is this rather long connection with you that prompts me to write this letter which may, I hope, bring to your notice the fact that something seriously wrong is seeming to get worse as the months pass.

"Looking back, through the last twelve months' copies, I do feci that your critics are beginning to forget to a certain degree the chief points to which the keen record lover looks; that is, practical criticism of the new recordings as they are issued . A strong tendency has arisen to give a lengthy discourse on the year of the composition, together with points regarding the composer's life and matrimonial affairs and the data of the first performance of the work in question. Apart from a few lines at the bottom on the performance, there is very often nothing which te'lls us whether the recording is good or bad, inartistic, overamplified or any of the l i t t le points that are such a help to the would-be purchaser.

" I have mentioned this to many collectors in this area and they are all of the same opinion. After all, your critics are not the only persons who have access to reference books, and apart from. the fact that the real music lover usually knows all this data i t is always possible to look this all up in a reference l ibrary. What is really wanted when perusing THE GRAMOPHONE is a proper criticism of the recording and the performance.

" So many records that have been issued of late and which are on the lowest level, both as regards performance and recording, have been passed over in this somewhat haphazard way which has led many to purchase these abominations and then regret the move afterwards-after all, i t is not everybody who is able to try out their purchases before buying. In the smaller towns i t is a case of a special order, which cannot be cancelled or exchanged."

I t will be idle for me to point out that i t is much more difficult nowadays to estimate accurately the quality of recording. Chiswick and Edgbaston will simultaneously retort that i t is an editorial duty to discover reviewers who, conscious of their infallibility, wi1l not be afraid to pontificate. All the same I must in fairness to our reviewers point out some of their difficulties.

In the first place they are hurried-I almost wrote harried-by the fact that the discs for review usually reach them when the demand for copy is becoming loud and insistent. For many years now I have played with the idea of bringing out THE GRAMOPHONE in the middle of the month instead of on the first day of i t . However, when I have sounded people on the advisableness of such a date, I have always been discouraged not only by the recording companies and our other advertisers, but also by the various readers whom I have consulted about a possible change of date. Until opinion perceptibly veers toward mid-month publication I do not feel justified in departing from our present time-table, and therefore the conditions in which our reviewers work will have to continue. Those being what they are I do not think that we can expect the thorough analysis of the recording that I should welcome as much as any reader. I shall be frank and admit at once that at the moment I feel completely muddled in my own mind about recording. Does the great improvement claimed for i t exist in fact or has there been a great improvement in reproduction on certain instruments which hardly any of our readers possess? Further to that question, is the alleged improvement in recording a positive disadvantage when not repro.duced by the latest instruments?

I fancy that, if I were to insist thflt our critics should use only the latest H.M.V. or Decca instrument, there would be a chorus of protests from readers whose own instruments were failing to provide a suitable response to the raptures of those critics.

Of this point let me quote from a third reader who claims the privilege of long friendship with THE GRAMOPHONE that goes back to its first number to speak his mind.

This is what Wimbledon says: " But the quality of the recording IS III many instances lamentable. You must remember that our ears have become spoilt for reproduced music, mainly due to the wireless, since a recorded version, except possibly on a super de luxe radiogram, is not owned by the majority of listeners. Many modern recordings are atrociousscratch, popply record surface, wavy pitch, particularly in the middle registers, blurring of the high notes especially towards the centre of the record, and bad acoustical balance. Twenty years ago such defects would have been gladly overlooked in return for ' listen to the Bass' and all the rest. And yet you know, the old acoustic record, with all its absurd l imitations by modern standards, was singularly free from some of the fundamental faults found in modern recordings. Within its l imited reproductive capacity i t was true in pitch and the outlines were clean. I have a good machine and I may be a bit more critical than some, but I can assure you that nowadays I rejoice when I am able to buy a new recording which is satisfactory from the point of view of reproduction. I t is heartbreaking to reject long awaited works, well played, because they sound awful. And i t follows from all this that what the gramophile to-day is really interested in, given all else as regards recorded works and often, too often perhaps, alternative interpretations to choose from, is QUALITY OF RECORDING, which cannot 'be taken for granted. This is where THE GRAMOPHONE should help through the medium of its record reviews. But i t doesn't. Your


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