MIDEM - news from the coal-face

James JollyThu 28th January 2010
Jan Liesiecki kicks off Chopin year (photo: OHOUEIX)Jan Liesiecki kicks off Chopin year (photo: OHOUEIX)

Reporting back from the record industry's trade fair, Midem, in Cannes

MIDEM (I’m not even sure any more what it stands for!) has been part of my life for, I think, 18 years (giving me, among other things, an usually full insight into Cannes’ restaurants and hotels – Le Moulin de Mougins tops the former, the Martinez the latter). It’s where the record industry comes together for three or four days early each year to peddle its wares, trade gossip and indulge in either “We’re doomed” or “Actually, we’ve had an amazing year” conversations.

My role has changed somewhat since handing over the Gramophone reins to James Inverne – so I can mill around the fair unaccosted. I also co-host the Midem Classical Awards – a rather glamorous occasion that this year featured the very splendid Sinfonietta Cracovia from Poland under the baton of the unflappable and hugely smooth John Axelrod.

Midem seems to impose a “survival of the fittest” philosophy which meant that no-hopers have fallen by the wayside and the people who attend have a story to tell, recordings to share and good news aplenty. And, in the classical music market at least, Midem is a showcase for the independent sector: the major companies rarely attend, and anyway their motivation is rather different these days (and if a major company player does appear it’s usually someone from a company that operates like an indie, such as Virgin Classics).

On the download front, Naxos’s DSP classicsonline.com took the digital award at the MCA – it’s a fine site with a pretty mind-blowing roster of labels. (I’m only sorry that Cybele, whose extraordinary recording of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Requiem for a Young Poet took the Recording of the Year Award as well as the Choral category, doesn’t seem to be available in cyberspace – though its startling surround-sound recording does lose something when heard only in stereo.)

Other news included an imminent revamp for Chandos’s classicalmusicshop.net, a new download store from Canada’s Analekta (320kbps MP3 and lossless), news about a digital store for DaCapo (studio-quality 24-bit downloads available à la Linn and Gimell) – well worth checking out if unusual but invariably rewarding repertoire’s your thing, and a forthcoming launch of a Decca (and Philips) Web Shop to sit alongside the soon-to-be overhauled DG Web Shop.

I hope to work my way through these new initiatives over the next few weeks. And Steve Smith of Gimell thrust the new Tallis Scholars’ Victoria CD (with a stunning Michelangelo cover image) into my hand with the promise of 24-bit HD download as soon as he got home (and linked to my promised immersion in medieval polyphony I look forward to listening in studio quality sound using my Squeezebox). It's scheduled for release to coincide with The Tallis Scholar's 30th birthday in March.

The Midem Classical Awards this year featured some magnificent singing – Elina Garanca in the Havanaise from Carmen, Christian Gerhaher in one of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and my wonderful co-host, the effervescent Marie-Nicole Lemieux, in Henri Duparc’s ravishing Chanson triste. The young Spanish clarinettist José Franch Ballester played Debussy’s Première Rapsodie, a really gorgeous work which, I suppose because of its length (about eight minutes), rarely gets a look-in in concert, even though most principal players would give their eye teeth to do the piece with their orchestral colleagues. And Chopin Year was kicked off in style when the Sinfonietta Cracovia gave us the First Piano Concerto with the astonishingly assured 14-year-old Polish-Canadian Jan Liesiecki (though he seemed every bit the North American kid).

The other disc I took away – and haven’t stopped playing – is sheer delight from beginning to end and comes from Toccata Classics: Dvorák songs transcribed for violin or viola by Josef Suk, accompanied by Vladimir Ashkenazy – and with the added bonus that the viola played here once belonged to Dvorák (Suk’s great-grandfather). As soon as it pops up on eMusic, grab it!

James Jolly

James Jolly is Gramophone's Editor-in-Chief. His blogs explore live and recorded music, as well as downloading and digital delivery.

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