Recognising what lies behind an artist’s album

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Editor Martin Cullingford introduces the February 2024 issue of Gramophone, which features revealing interviews with Asmik Grigorian and Martin James Bartlett

After marking our centenary throughout 2023, and beginning 2024 with a Bruckner special edition, we hope the February issue represents a rich breadth of what we do in ‘normal’ time. Turning to our cover artist, we were completely taken with the extraordinary debut of Rachmaninov songs with which Asmik Grigorian won the song category in the 2022 Gramophone Awards – ‘a concentrated 45-minute hit of rich, brooding and ecstatic Romances’. She’s subsequently appeared in our pages in a number of triumphant DVD opera roles – in Puccini’s Il trittico, Wagner’s Die fliegende Holländer, Dvořák’s Rusalka, Berg’s Wozzeck, Janček’s Jenůfa, Strauss’s Salome – and so her step back into the studio for Alpha Classics seemed a perfect opportunity to meet with a singer who has risen swiftly to the top of her profession. Except, of course, that as she reminds us in Mark Pullinger’s interview, her 2018 breakthrough performances in Salome followed ‘14 years of very, very hard work’ – indeed we meet her this issue 20 years after her professional debut. It’s important to remember that behind an artist’s achievements lies decades of dedication, study, sacrifice and single-minded focus. Behind the art, lies a life.

asmik grigorian

We also meet another artist this month bringing a style all of his own to recording: pianist Martin James Bartlett represents another facet of fame, that of early recognition, and how one responds to that. In his case, he won BBC Young Musician at 17 – a decade on, and Jeremy Nicholas’s profile portrays an engagingly down-to-earth and exploratory artist.

martin james bartlett

Recording is a significant part of both their careers. In a recent Gramophone podcast, James Jolly talked to Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Principal of the Royal Academy of Music and someone who contributes so much to our pages, about how his students respond to recording. As he puts it, it’s a very exciting way of getting them to think that they can ‘put a line in the sand for themselves and contribute to the argument of how a great piece of music can be interpretated.’ When streaming services today offer sometimes hundreds of interpretations of core works, those words feel to me a perfect distillation of why it is relevant, indeed important, that artists continue to add to that number.

Our Collection feature is one of our most popular articles and well encapsulates the unfolding story told by the ever-growing catalogues of major masterpieces  – this month’s, Geraint Lewis on Elgar’s Violin Concerto, being a perfect example. And for the impact of recording on a listener’s life, turn to author Charlie Mackesy, interviewed in this month’s My Music, whose memory of the life-changing nature of discovering Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto is vividly and movingly described.

The foundation of our coverage is our reviews, which are, to return to where we began, the outcome not just of an hour spent with an album, but years of attentive listening and reflection by our critics, and a desire to share that knowledge with likeminded people. As 2024 unfolds, I remain ever grateful for the depth of commitment that lies behind both the artists we cover and the writers I’m so proud to publish.

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