In praise of sound and vision – and the organ

Martin CullingfordMon 12th October 2015

Gramophone's editor introduces the October issue of the magazine

In this space last month I wrote about how our annual Awards reflect changes and trends in recording. One trend I didn’t mention, though, was how contenders in the Opera category had, as James Jolly put it later in the issue, ‘almost completely migrated to DVD’. Our Opera winner this year, a Strauss Elektra from Aix-en-Provence, was a film, as were both of the runners-up: Wagner’s Parsifal from the New York Met and Britten’s Death in Venice from English National Opera. The past three years’ Opera winners have all been DVD releases.

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. We not so long ago dropped our separate DVD section, as the integral role opera films increasingly played in the genre’s catalogue made it feel like an anachronism. And after all, opera composers conceived their works to be theatre pieces (and most were born before the notion of recording was even thought of anyway).

But I hope that the future remains one in which both DVD and audio-only opera releases get to share our pages and the plaudits (and the label budgets). And so the cover features in this month's Gramophone (on sale now) reflect both sides of the story. On the one hand, we celebrate the excellent series of Mozart operas that René Jacobs and Harmonia Mundi have gifted to the CD catalogue in recent years, by focusing on the next (and concluding) release, Die Entführung aus dem Serail. On the other, I invited Mike Ashman to cast his expert eye as well as ear over trends and changes in Mozart operas on DVD, looking at how they had informed modern society’s understanding of those dramatic masterpieces.

And of course last issue’s Recording of the Month was a thrilling studio Aida from Sir Antonio Pappano and Warner Classics. This year’s Awards have just been handed out, so it’s too early to speculate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if next year’s Opera shortlist wasn’t quite the clean sweep for DVDs that this one was. 

Turning now to this issue’s Recording of the Month, I thought it worth drawing readers’ attention to the fact that a solo organ disc occupies the slot: a brilliant Bach recital from Masaaki Suzuki. I’ve never understood why this most extraordinary of instruments, capable of mighty power and majestic serenity, is so often considered a niche interest. When expertly recorded it can be an impressive home listening experience too, one capable of immersing you in an architectural acoustic like no other, and, in the case of historic recitals, even a particular period. 

Suzuki began playing for church services aged 12. How can we make sure that others might follow in his footsteps, and that an appreciation of organ music is passed on to the next generation? 

I’m proud to attend a church in which it’s made clear that the service hasn’t ended until the voluntary has (coffee and biscuits resolutely aren’t served until the final note has died away), and that applies to the children too. Organ music deserves nothing less. But with church attendance declining, it’s vital to make sure the organ is as much a part of children’s musical experiences as its smaller and more mobile musical cousins. Recordings such as this one are a good place to start. 

martin.cullingford@markallengroup.com

This article appears in the October issue of Gramophone, available now digitally, and in the shops from October 15

Martin Cullingford

Martin Cullingford is the Editor and Publisher of Gramophone.

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