The fun to be found in making musical lists

Martin CullingfordTue 19th July 2016
Martin Cullingford

Gramophone's editor introduces the new issue of the magazine

While I write this, the votes from our panel of reviewers are being collated as we conclude the penultimate stage of our Awards process. To recap: our critics have already reduced our initial list of many hundreds of contenders to a shortlist of six per category, and then they’ve listened again to those, sending in their nominations. We’ll very shortly know the winner of each category, and then the final stage will see a smaller panel gather later this month to choose the Recording of the Year.

I can’t, obviously, reveal anything at this stage – but it’s been a strong year of releases from major and indie labels alike, in both core repertoire and more exploratory projects, and the results will reflect that.

Why I am writing all this now? Well, partly to whet appetites, but I also wanted to reflect a little on the wider issue of Awards, of ‘best of category’ initiatives, and of lists in general. It’s something we at Gramophone do a lot: as well as our Awards, there is also our Hall of Fame, our playlists, and the recommended recording lists we run online, most recently focusing on Gluck and Beethoven. We know that these are among our most-read web features, and giving readers something they enjoy is one of the most gratifying aspects of publishing.

But I also hope it contributes something to everyone’s understanding of recording. Some readers have written to me to question this sort of article (and, let me say, I really do appreciate all correspondence – supportive or otherwise). Are people really interested in lists? Do they over-simplify the complex nature of critical judgement? The answer I give is that such features can work in many ways, for all types of readers.

For the most committed collector, they can be a useful shortcut into the decades-long legacy of our critics’ opinions: each choice is backed up by a strongly favourable review. I’d also challenge any Gramophone reader not to have, in their minds, a series of lists of their favourite interpretations or interpreters. We should always challenge any views we hold, if only to have them reinforced after thorough scrutiny. And, if the Gramophone office is anything to go by, discussing such lists is also fun!

None of us are all-knowing experts – I’m certainly not. We all have differing degrees of knowledge, and we all need guidance. That’s why Gramophone seeks out and invites the finest critics to share their knowledge in their specialist areas. For the discoverer – of new recordings, new repertoire, even core repertoire – such lists can open doors to life-enriching experiences. So I hope you’ll take time to explore and enjoy our lists – online, and in the magazine. Which brings me to this month’s cover story, in which we invited 10 of today’s leading pianists to each discuss one of 10 great piano concertos. The list was our choice, and is necessarily subjective. The list of artists, however, was easier – each is an extraordinary exponent of the pianist’s art, and has contributed a remarkable recording of the relevant work to the catalogue. We’re hugely grateful for the time they’ve given to help us with what’s turned out to be a fascinating feature.   

martin.cullingford@markallengroup.com

Martin Cullingford

Martin Cullingford is the Editor and Publisher of Gramophone.

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