Introducing the May 2021 issue of Gramophone, featuring Leif Ove Andsnes

Martin Cullingford
Friday, April 16, 2021

Editor Martin Cullingford introduces the May issue, which includes: Leif Ove Andsnes's reflections on Mozart, a pioneering new choral recording in a virtual acoustic and a tribute to the great horn player Dennis Brain

Classical recording is a living art form – and as such has a past, present and future. And those interwoven threads of heritage, modernity and looking ahead are something we endeavour to explore in every issue of Gramophone.

Starting with the past, our Reissue and Archive coverage offers an in-depth insight into the foundations on which everything that comes afterwards rests. It’s a place in our pages where writers can bring both discernment and distance to bear on analysing and understanding the contributions great figures of the past made to their era and, through the reissue of their recordings today, make to our era too. This month, Richard Osborne’s essay on Eugene Ormandy’s Philadelphia years, and Peter Quantrill’s survey of curated Stravinsky interpretations, unpack some of the latest major box-sets, while Rob Cowan as always offers an extraordinarily expert guide to some of the smaller sets and individual issues which demand our attention.

The catalogue – that more-than-a-century long legacy of a transformative technology applied to art – runs like a thread through everything we do. It’s there in our celebration of an Icon (this month’s subject, horn player Dennis Brain, possessing particularly revered status), and also in our thematic listening guide, ‘What Next?’. But then so it should: for the past runs like a thread through the very act of recording by artists of today. When caught in calmer moments, many musicians will happily talk of the recordings that inspired and inspire them still. And thus something that defines our coverage of new releases is comparative reviewing; not so much judging new recordings by those that already exist, for the best new versions will always contribute something fresh and unique, but helping us set them in context, and also helping illuminate those aspects that make them worth hearing and worth collecting.

If that’s the past and present, what of our coverage of the future? Partly that involves charting changes such as new appointments. This month we report on Sir Antonio Pappano’s move to the London Symphony Orchestra, something to be greatly welcomed. Aside from his brilliance as a conductor, something a string of Awards and Editor’s Choices (including with the LSO itself) attests to, few artists are as able as he to communicate about classical music with such effortless and engaging ease. There’s also Decca’s new signing, Klaus Mäkelä, whose two prestigious appointments in Paris and Oslo mark him out as a conductor who will help shape the orchestral scene in the years ahead; that a major label is now demonstrating a commitment to chronicling that on record is wonderful. (Incidentally, the last conductor Decca signed, more than 40 years ago, was none other than Riccardo Chailly – illustrious footsteps to follow indeed).

Then finally there is the innovative and simply intriguing. A new release from The Binchois Consort saw them record Scottish Renaissance polyphony in an anechoic chamber, after which a reconstructed historical acoustic was applied, and the whole presented in virtual reality. Classical music, past, present and future: I defy anyone to conjure up a project which better embraces that notion than this!

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