Suggested Recordings

The most common question which comes into the “Ask Dr Marc” page on the MPO website concerns the Suggested Recordings we put in the programme booklets for every MPO concert. I’ve also had queries from respondents to this blog asking about the lists of recordings that go with the SSO and HKPO notes. It seems that there is a very large body of music lovers who believe that having a large CD collection, which they can buy in a proper CD shop and play on proper CD equipment, is an essential part of being a true music lover.

I couldn’t agree more. To have ready access to great music and great recordings is something every true music-lover should cultivate. After all CDs are cheap (yes, they are, when you consider the costs of musicians’ fees, music copyright, venue bookings, time and effort from engineering staff and the cost of the recording equipment) and in most civilised countries of the world, are easily available. And when you have bought your CD you want to hear it to its best advantage, so you don’t mess around putting it on a home theatre system, with its grotesquely disfiguring (to music) amplifiers and speakers, nor yet do you stick it on a disco-combi thingy where all the energy goes into flashing lights and none into faithful music reproduction. On top of that, most true CD aficionados build their collection by part-seeking out specific CDs, but more especially by browsing through the shelves in stores and picking up things they don’t know and wish to try out. If you’re not willing to experiment and try something new, then you’re not a music lover; you are just someone who likes, say, Beethoven’s Fifth or Tchaikovsky’s Sixth.

So this post is for those who, while they realise that no recording can ever begin to be a substitute for the meanest live performance (and especially not those spurious “live” recordings which are rarely any such thing), love their CDs.

A year into the MPO’s existence, we thought we might encourage our audience to seek a little further into music and point them in the direction of worthwhile recordings of the music they heard at each MPO concert. Not wishing to blind them with choices, I used to select the one recording of each work performed which I thought (and it has always been a personal choice) was the best. The rule was simple; it had to be available through the CD stores in KL. In those days we had a couple of fantastic outlets – Tower Records and a fantastic one run by the Dama Orchestra under Merdeka Square – and I would go along every week and riffle through the shelves, see what was there and check that they had w; which often proved very enlightening. At one point, when Tower Records moved into KLCC, I even tried to set up a partnership between them and the MPO, but it never came to anything. It was Kees Bakels who suggested that one recommendation wasn’t enough and suggested 10 or 12. The idea of such information over-flow horrified us all, but we settled on three; one (if possible) featuring the artist or conductor concerned in the concert (or, failing that, a popular artist with MPO audiences), the second being my personal recommendation and the third being either an historic recording (which KB thought were important to introduce to the audience) or a bargain-priced one. In the case of the latter two, these still had to be available locally.

And so it continued until both those great CD shops disappeared; Tower Records struggled once the American parent went into receivership and eventually had to move into a dingy corridor in Lot 10 where it now peddles wall-to-wall pop videos in a pale shadow of a once great high street name, while the Dama premises was flooded out in those horrendous pre-Smart Tunnel floods, and went out of business. With major labels reluctant to ship to Malaysia because of the piracy problem, as often as not my recommendations, when I would try them out on any of those awful online shops, would come back with the message that the product could not be shipped to my location (would I like to move to, say, Los Angeles?, while at the same time finding it impossible to refund my money). So I decided against recommending any disc unless it was available either directly from the label’s own website or through the major CD stores (which, sadly now, means HMV) in Singapore.

So, for those who ask, I don’t recommend the “best”, but I recommend the best that you can realistically get hold of legally. You’ll not see many Karajan or Bernstein suggestions from me – because I can’t stand most of their work on disc – and Naxos don’t feature very much – they are neither as ubiquitous nor as cheap in South East Asia as they are elsewhere (which is odd for a Hong Kong company) and a lot of their discs don’t, when you delve into it, bear up well in direct comparisons with the major labels, orchestras and artists. But, while it remains my personal suggestion, I love to hear what others think, and after a very kind and gentle rebuke from a certain MPO conductor, I was delighted to stumble across a disc which he had recommended but which I had never suggested simply because I had never heard it and didn’t think it was possible to get hold of in Malaysia. I stumbled across it in a Hong Kong store last week and have to admit it was all it was cracked up to be and more; Claus Peter Flor’s Beethoven Piano Concertos on Berlin Classics is well worth rooting out, and now I can point you in the direction of a store which sells is and can send it out to those who can’t make it to Hong Kong.

It’s a store that’s been there for years, and I had visited it many years back, but I only found it again when I happened to be looking out of the upstairs window of a passing bus. It specialises in the small labels and carries not just the entire ASV, Berlin Classics, Chandos, CPO, Hyperion, Dorian catalogues – and hundreds of others I’ve never even heard of – but ships them around Asia. Their showroom is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave for CD aficionados and you could spend a day there drooling over things you’ve never even heard of. The Regis and Brilliant Classics labels are there in full swing, as well as NMR, RCO, Testament… the list goes on. Of course, there will be those who will immediately write in to say they’ve known about it for years, but from now on, I’m going to check their stock when I draw up my lists of suggested recordings, so expect to see something a little more way out in the future.


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