Editorial T

urn back the clock a couple of decades and imagine a dinner-party at one of the chateaux of the Bordeaux region, or one of Burgundy's more illustrious prod ucers. The subject of Australian wine comes up and is greeted with howls of deri sion and the suggestion that the combination of wine and Australia is too ridiculous even to consider. F ast forward to tod ay and the subject of Antipodean wine production and the vast quantities now consumed in the more receptive regions of the world - might be greeted with a little more se rious ness (indeed there might now be an Australian winemaker among the diners) . Now repla ce ,the chateau x with the boardrooms of the major record companies and the Australian wine with discs from Hong Kong and, I would suggest, you have a very similar scenario .

Ten years ago the idea of a record company, based in Hong Kong, putting out discs of central repertoire at a very modest price was either laughed at or dismissed out of hand. Now in 1997, the si tuation is very different : Naxos, who are celebrating their tenth birthday this year, are quite clearly one of the major players in the record world and most definitely a major company themselves. Many of the arguments levelled against them in their early years have lost considerable (and in many cases all) impetus in the successive ten years. I t was unthinkable all those years ago to imagine that Naxos would bring us Berwald, let alone Bliss or Aulis Sallinen - yet there they are in the catalogue in very fine performances. And to the many ensembles whose chances of gaining an international audience were extremely doubtful, it must have come as a real blessing. The majors have reduced their A&R budgets to the extent that some first-league orchestras are facing the possibility of a future without representation on di sc. (Could the time be far off when a truly ftrst-division band appears on Naxos? The idea is certainly not inconceivable .)

While Naxos provide endl ess variety in eminently acceptableand frequently very fine - performances , there is still room for 'first growth ' performances marketed at full price. This month 's cover artist, John Eliot Gardiner, is a fine example of a musician whose recordings sell at full-price in quantities that more than justify the faith placed in him by DG and Philips. His method of recordin g - inten sive rehearsals followed by a concentra ted tour and then into the studio - evidently works well and I don 't think it is just chauvinism on our part that he receives consistently good reviews in these pages . Even a llowing for the excellence of an artist such as Gardiner and the solid endorsements which accompany so many of his rel eases, there is still a bewildering range of possibilities which confront the would-be bu yer of classical music. There is little doubt that the overall standard of classical recordings is remarkably high, a fact which only adds to the difficulty in differentiating between them. The wine trade offers the uninitiated purchaser considerable help in making a choice; too many classical record stores re main a daunting place unless you know precisely what you want.

Enter Gramophone's Recommended Recordings, a new monthly section which will act as a digest of the reviews of a large number of central repertoire works. These have been divided into three price categories (full, mid and budget or super-buaget) with a fourth category th a t allows for the historic , the unusual or, where the majority of recommendations are of, say, period performances, a traditional approach (or vice versa!). The list will be updated monthly to take into account deletions, rei ss ues of great performances at particularly attractive prices and of course the recommendations emerging from each month's reviews. We shaH not list a recording of a work in a price category where there really isn't a version that is competitive: for example, the Enigma Variations are well served at mid- and budget-price but a full-price recommendation really isn't possible.

We have also given the review pages a modest spring clean: I hope the result is to your taste - and for those readers who were aghast when we highlighted Editor's choice discs , we have not resurrected that idea. The featured reviews are selected for their topicality and significance - not necessarily for the generosity of the review! ~

Editor's choice

James Jolly selects ten outstanding CDs from this month's reviews

A. Scarlatti Cantatas

Brandes; Arcadian Academy / McGegan Conifer Classics Choral and song reviews Page 104

Ades Life Story

Various artists; Ades EMI Debut Chamber reviews Page 74

Bach Six Partitas

Hewitt Hyperion Instrumental reviews Page 84

Britten An Ameri can

Overture. King Arthur Suite. The World of the Spirit. Soloists; Britten Singers; BBC PO / Hickox Chandos Orchestral reviews Page 50

Conversations with

Bill Evans Piano transcripti ons Thibaudet Decca Instrumental reviews Page 85

Liszt Complete Piano Works, Vol. 1

Cohen Naxos Instrumental reviews Page 86

Ravel Orchestral works

Orchestra of the Opera National de Lyon / Nagano Erato Orchestral reviews Page 64

Beethoven Piano

Concerto NO.4. Triple Concerto Kantorow; Wallfisch; Roll; RPO/ Shelley Tring Orchestral reviews Page 49

Handel Agrippina

Soloists; English Baroque Soloists / Gardiner Philips Opera reviews Page 106

Tavener Svyati. Eternal

Memory. Akhmatova Songs Various artists; Isserlis RCA Victor Red Seal Choral and song reviews Page 102

Gramophone June 1997 1