Seller madness – or buyer’s?

As a follow-up on my blog post about “Kogan madness“:

Yeah, yeah, I know : Janos Starker WAS one of the greatest cellists of the second half of the 20th century, worthy of unrestricted admiration and collecting. And I know: his penultimate (out of five) recording of the Cello Suites, from 1984, on the small (and long gone) Canadian label Sefel is a rarity.

But an ask price of 1,000 dollars for the two CDs ?

Hey, that’s madness!

I don’t want to lay too much blame on the seller, Ieronim (based in Romania). I’ve bought from him in the past, a couple of times (never at those prices!), and he’s often got good and rare stuff – incredible what finds its way to Romania, not usually recognized as the center of the world of Classical music. I do think it is crazy to expect to find someone ready to shell out one thousand bucks on 2 CDs, but if he does – madness is the buyer’s and the blame goes on him!

Anyway, I’ll put the offer on my watchlist, to know if buyer’s madness manifests itself. So far, Ieronim’s 1,000 dollars is not the market value of the Sefel recording. It’s market value will be determined when the offer meets a demand. Discogs.com, which functions as both an encyclopedia of recordings and a marketplace, indicates that the most expensive CD1 sold from their platform is 55 euros – still expensive for a CD, but way more reasonable (in fact, I was almost tempted to spend 40 on only one CD of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas by Patrick Bismuth on Stil, one of those rarities I’m hopelessly hoping to find for around 20… and then balked).

By the way, I’ve just checked the other eBay offer I had mentioned at the end my “Kogan madness” post, of only one of the two Sefel CDs, by a Texas-based seller alliased Gnarly-Media. His start price was 360 dollars back then.

Well, it turns out the “listing was ended by the seller because the item is no longer available”. From that I understand that he withdrew it because it didn’t sell – no wonder.

But what I find particularly, well, interesting, is that apparently, when the guy got no bids at 360 dollars, he relisted his CD as “buy it now”…. and at an offer price of… 1078 dollars! Why 1078, rather than, I don’t know, 1,000, or 1,077? No clue.

Anyway, it strikes me as a real revolution in micro-economics: when your goods don’t sell, triple the price!

As they say: as long as you haven’t sold, you ain’t rich.

 

 

La Zarzuela on EMI-Spain (Hispavox) 1991-92 and some reissues from 2000

For whomever’s interest (fans of Zarzuela, the Spanish operetta, evidently): as I was working on my discography of EMI’s budget and mid-price series, I chanced upon a collection that EMI-Spain (Hispavox) released back in 1991 and 1992 (the heydays of the CD), reissuing recordings originally made from 1958 to 1969, and that is very badly represented on the Amazons, even Amazon Spain, probably because the series was circulated before the invention of Amazon and in a country that is aloof from the international marketing circuits. The begining of the series was reviewed in the July-August 1992 issue of the Spanish record magazine Scherzo (pages 86 and 87), which at least helped me to track down the collection (things are easier to find when you know them to exist). I’ve found a few subsequent releases from 1992, not listed in Scherzo.

 

(For better legibility here is the magnified list)

One additional difficulty is that the series was released in various batches, but for some reason the barcodes of the second series, 7 67428 2 to 7 67434 2, are out of sync with EMI’s normal barcode sequence, and that remains a puzzle to me. Discogs as often was very helpful as it documents a number of those releases – but not all. Here’s the list, and, when CDs are not listed on Amazon, I provide links to Discogs or other websites, for more complete information and cover photos. In some cases, when useful, I provide cover photos. A number of them were reissued in 2000. I haven’t (yet) looked systematically to establish if all were, but initial research suggests that this was not the case. I indicate those I’ve chanced upon.

First batch:

CZS 7 67322 2  (2 CDs) La Zarzuela 1. Amadeo Vives: Doña Francisquita / Bohemios. Teresa Tourné, Pedro Lavirgen, Ana Higueras etc, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, Pablo Sorozábal 1963, 1964  (1991) 077776732220. Reissue EMI 5 74209 2 (2000) 724357420921
Note: reissue has a very elusive presence online, but here is the cover photo:

 

 

 

CZS 7 67325 2  (2 CDs) La Zarzuela 2. Pablo Sorozábal: La tabernera del puerto / La del Manojo De Rosas. Leda Barclay, Alfredo Kraus, Pilar Lorengar, Renato Cesari, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, Sorozábal 1958, 62 (1991) 077776732527. Reissue EMI 5 74158 2 (2000) 724357415828

CDZ 7 67328 2  La Zarzuela 3. Ruperto Chapi: La Revoltosa / Tomas Breton: La Verbena de la Poloma. Teresa Tourne, Renato Cesari, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, Pablo Sorozábal, Federico Moreno Torroba 1963, 1961 (1991) 077776732824. Reissue EMI 5 74162 2 (2000) 724357416221

CDZ 7 67329 2  La Zarzuela 4. Federico Moreno Torroba: Luisa Fernanda. Teresa Tourné, Pedro Lavirgen, Renato Cesari, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, Moreno Torroba 1960 (1991) 077776732923. Reissue EMI 5 74153 2 (2000) 724357415323

CDZ 7 67330 2  La Zarzuela 5. Pablo Sorozábal: Katiuska. Pilar Lorengar, Alfredo Kraus, Renato Cesari, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, Sorozábal 1958 (1991) 077776733029. Reissue EMI 5 74161 2 (2000) 724357416122

CDZ 7 67331 2 La Zarzuela 6. Federico Chueca: Agua Azucarillos y Aguardien / Federico Chueca y Joaquin Valverde: La Gran Via. Teresa Tourné, Ana Higueras, Renato Cesari, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, Pablo Sorozábal 1963 (1991) 077776733128, reissued  EMI 5 74152 2 (2000) 724357415224

CDZ 7 67332 2  La Zarzuela 7. Jose Serrano: La Canción del Olvido. Isabel Castelo, Renato Cesari, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, Pablo Sorozábal 1963 (1991) 077776733227. Reissue EMI 5 74157 2 (2000) 724357415729

CDZ 7 67333 2 La Zarzuela 8. Pablo Luna: Molinos de viento. Teresa Tourné, Renato Cesari, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, Pablo Sorozábal 1963 (1991) 077776733326

 

CDZ 7 67334 2  La Zarzuela 9. José Serrano: La Dolorosa. Teresa Tourné, Pedro Lavirgen, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, Pablo Sorozábal 1966 (1991) 077776733425. Reissue 5 74216 2 (2000) 724357421621

CDZ 7 67335 2 Antologia de la Zarzuela vol. 1 (compilation of excerpts from the above) (1991) 077776733524

Second batch:

7 67428 2 Antologia de la Zarzuela vol. 2 (1991) 077776742820 (is the barcode indicated at the back although it should have been, following EMI’s barcode sequence, 077776742823)

CDZ 7 67429 2  La Zarzuela 10. Jacinto Guerrero: Los Gavilanes. Dolorès Ripollès, Alicia Armencia, Renato Cesari,  Pedro Lavirgen, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid,  Federico Moreno Torroba 1961 () probable barcode 077776742929 (not found online, no bacover photo located), should be, following EMI’s barcode sequence, 077776742922, not found online (and so forth for the next releases). Reissued EMI 5 74154 2 (2000) 724357415422 

Note: I’ve seen many indications online that the reissue dated from 1996. Not so, and I don’t know where that date comes from. Backcover photo clearly shows © 2000 and the CD is part of a barcode sequence whose other installments are from 2000 indeed:

 

 

7 67430 2  La Zarzuella 11. Pablo Sorozabal: Don Manolito. Celia Langa, Renato Cesari, Jorge Algorta, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, Pablo Sorozábal  1959 (1991) 077776743025

7 67431 2  La Zarzuela 12. Pablo Sorozabal: Black, el payaso.  Leda Barclay, Alfredo Kraus, Renato Cesari, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, Pablo Sorozábal 1958 (1991) 077776743124

7 67432 2 La Zarzuela 13. Pablo Sorozabal: Las de Cain. Teresa Tourné, Ana Higueras, Renato Cesari, Julio Catania, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, Pablo Sorozábal 1965 (1991) 077776743223

 

7 67433 2 La Zarzuela 14. Pablo Sorozábal: La eterna cancion. Teresa Tourné, Pedro Lavirgen, Ana Maria Higueras, Renato Cesari, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, Pablo Sorozábal 1965 (1991) 077776743322

 

7 67434 2 La Zarzuela 15. Pablo Sorozabal: Adios A La Bohemia. Pilar Lorengar Renato Cesari, Manuel Gas etc, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, Pablo Sorozábal 1962 (1991) 077776743421 (Note: should have been 077776743424 following EMI’s normal barcode sequence, and that one does yield an entry on Amazon, although without offer. But backcover photo on discogs shows clearly the barcode ending with 421 on back of CD)

7 67443 2 Preludios e Intermedios de Zarzuela : Gimenez, Breton, Chapi, Chueca, Caballero, Barbieri. Orquesta de Coniertos de Madrid, Pablo Sorozabal (1991) 077776744322

The series was continued in 1992:

7 67450 2 La Zarzuela 16. Jacinto Guerrero: Ed Huesped del Sevillano.   Dolores Perez, Carlo Del Monte, Orquesta Lirica Española, Federico Moreno Torroba 1969 (1992) 077776745022

7 67451 2 La Zarzuela 17. Jesùs Guridi: El Caserio. Dolores Perez, Carlo Del Monte, Luis Sagi-Vela, Orquesta Lirica Española, Federico Moreno Torroba 1969 (1992) 077776745121. Reissue 5 74156 2 (2000) 724357415620

7 67452 2 La Zarzuela 18. Amadeo Vivès: Maruxa. Dolores Perez, Josefina Cubeiro, Luis Sagi-Vela, Chano Gonszalo, Orquesta Lirica Española, Federico Moreno Torroba 69 (1992) 077776745220. Reissue 5 74212 2 (2000) 724357421225

7 67453 2 La Zarzuela 19. José Maria Usandizaga: Las Golondrinas. Josefina Cubeiro, Isabel Rivas, Vicente Sardinero Ramon Alonso, Orquesta Lirica Española, Federico Moreno Torroba 69 (1992) 077776745329. Reissue 5 74215 2 (2002) 724357421522

7 67454 2 La Zarzuela 20. Francisco Asenjo Barbieri: El Barberillo de Lavapies. Mari Carmen Ramirez, Dolores Perez, Luis Sagi-Vela, Orquesta Lirica Española, Federico Moreno Torroba 69 (1992) 077776745428. Reissue EMI 5 74163 2 (2000) 724357416320

7 67455 2  La Zarzuela 21. Ruperto Chapi: El Rey Que Rabio. Luis Sagi-Vela, Josefina Cubeira, Orquesta Lirica Española, Federico Moreno Torroba 69 (1992) 077776745527

Fourth batch:

7 67470 2 La Zarzuela 22. Jacinto Guerrero: La Rosa del Azafran / Manuel Fernandez Caballero: Gigantes y Cabezudos. Maria Espinalt, Marcos Redondo, Conchita Panades, José Permanyer, Orquesta Lirica Española, F. Delta / Rafael Ferrer 62 (1992) 077776747026. Reissue 5 74155 2 (2000) 724357415521

7 67471 2 La Zarzuela 23. Soutullo y Vert: La Del Soto Del Parral. Maria Espinalt, Juan Gual, Jeronimo Messeguer, Orquesta Lirica Española, Rafael Ferrer 62 (1992) 077776747125

7 67472 2  La Zarzuela 24. Francisco Alonso: La Parranda / José Serrano: Los Claveles. Lolita Rovira, Marcos Redondo, Maria Espinalt, Pablo Civil, Orquesta Lirica Española, F. Delta / Rafael Ferrer  (1992) 077776747224

4 67473 2  La Zarzuela 25. Amadeo Vivès: La Generala. Maria Espinalt, Lolita Torrento, Jeronimo Villardel, Orquesta Lirica Española, Rafael Ferrer 62 (1992) 077776747323

To all this I’ll add a 4-CD compilation also from 1992:

CZS 7 67580 2 (4 CDs) Antologia de la Zarzuela (1992) 077776758022

There may be more, but that is, for the moment, my contribution to the art of the Zarzuela.

eBay France remains an asinine website – and (no direct link) about Stockhausen

To follow-up on my post from June 2020, “George Friedrich Commerce and Till Owl-Mirror, really???? eBay and their asinine translation dildo“:  A beautiful offer came up on eBay a couple of days ago – if you are a Stockhausen fan, that is, and have some hundreds of dollars to spare: a book, “Conversations with Stockhausen”, by Jonathan Cott, published in 1974 by Picador.

Photo 51 - Karlheinz Stockhausen Experimental compositeur signé livre avec cœur SketchPhoto 4 - Karlheinz Stockhausen Experimental compositeur signé livre avec cœur Sketch

 

What “justifies” the 300$ price-tag (well… not in my eyes) is that the copy boasts a manuscript inscription by the composer, and the offer’s title says it all: “KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN EXPERIMENTAL COMPOSER SIGNED BOOK WITH HEART SKETCH”. And the photo says it even better:

Photo 2 - Karlheinz Stockhausen Experimental compositeur signé livre avec cœur Sketch

Well, okay, fine, if you are in that kind of worshiping and collecting, if you think that owning a scribbled scrap from your idol puts you in contact with the breath of genius, you may go for it. I would probably if it were Bach or Beethoven or Mahler and at that price (wisfhful thinking of course, and it says a lot about the hierarchies in recognition). That’s not my issue (or rather, target of irony) here.

My target is again the translation device that eBay has thought appropriate to impose on its users. I thought it applied only to offers from Germany/in German, but apparently not (this one is from the US and in English). So, in French, the offer’s title gives “Karlheinz Stockhausen Experimental compositeur signé livre avec cœur Sketch”. You need to know French to realize that it so doesn’t make sense that it’s laughable – I had to go to the original English to get what it meant.

Oh well it’s a small thing and I shouldn’t even be wasting my time ridiculing it. If you have a passion for Stockhausen, buy it!

And I shouldn’t be making fun of Stockhausen anyway (I wasn’t) or Stockhausen worshipers, since some years ago, I couldn’t resist buying, from the Stockhausen Foundation, a beautifully wrought music box, part of a limited edition of 12 series, each with (they said) only 40 copies, and each with a different tune composed by Stockhausen, “12 melodies of the star sign” or Zodiac. Of course I bought the box playing my own astrological sign tune. More about those Zodiac Music Boxes on the Stockhausen website.

Can’t remember how much I paid, but I remember they were pricey. But, hey, look, it was worth it, wasn’t it?

My house was burglarized a few weeks ago as I was away from home. Well, they didn’t take any CDs (what would they do with tons of classical music CDs and scores – only a fellow collector might want to do that), and I don’t keep jewels at home, but I was afraid they’d have stolen the music box. No, sigh of relief, they really weren’t connoisseurs, or perhaps they rewinded, played the tune and were chased away by sheer disgust (I’ve read that classical music played in department stores has the same effect).

Checking on the Stockhausen website, I see that most are now sold-out (I was going to buy one or two more to gift to family, but alas!…). Only Taurus and Capricorn are left.

Researching EMI, and new additions to my collection: rarities from the early EMI catalog

This August I’ve been busying myself with completing my (huge) discography of EMI’s budget series from the late 1980s and 1990s – Studio, Laser, Références, Great Recordings of the Century, Introuvables, Rarissimes, Rouge et Noir, Eminence, Classics for Pleasure, and that’s only a sample, EMI had many branches and a vast catalog to tap from. The research requires using my pet-method – follow the barcode! Just roll the sequence and see what you fish. Typically EMI’s barcode for its budget series in the early years was in the form 077776xxxx2y with 7 6xxxx 2 (preceded by three letters, usually CDM or CZS for the single CDs, CMS or CDS for sets) being the label number (full-priced issues would be 07777xxxxx2y if an individual CD and 07777xxxxx8y if a set. Editions from EMI’s German branch Electrola went by the barcodes 5099925xxx2y with 25 xxx 2 as label number. (I’ll keep it at that for the purpose of this post, to make it – seem – simple. In fact it is, once you get the logic).

Now, there may be a number of reasons why a  barcode doesn’t yield:

  1. In multiple-CD sets, each CD received its individual barcode. For instance, in two-CD set CMS 7 62533 2 from EMI France’s collection “Rouge & Noir” (Cziffra plays works for piano and orchestra), with barcode 077776253329, CD 1 is attributed the barcode 077776253428 and CD 2, 077776253527. So the next release in the series is going to be CMS 7 62536 2, barcode 077776253626, which turns out to be “Menuhin plays Concertos for violin”. Still, the discographer can’t afford to just jump two barcode numbers in his research, because sometimes – rarely, but I’ve seen it – EMI breaks the rule and what should be the barcode of CD1 is attributed to another release. I surmise that it is another branch of EMI that has located would appeared to be an available label number and has used it.
  2. On Amazon, now (it wasn’t always the case – part of the website’s general deterioration over the years), if a product isn’t currently offered, research sometimes (not always) won’t yield on the search engine. Heck, sometimes, for reasons incomprehensible to me, it won’t yield even if it IS currently offered. Solution is to go through your seller account and “add a new product”. If it is listed at all, it’ll show up.
  3. The label number and corresponding barcode have been skipped by the label. It happens, oftentimes. I’m not privvy with the way those big firms function and how they decide to allocate their barcodes to their different branches, I don’t know why they leave barcodes “blank”.
  4. The release exists, the barcode has been used, but it is not listed on your customary websites – either because an early release, made before your customary website was even invented, or (cumulative, not alternative) because it comes from an “exotic” branch of EMI, like EMI Spain, or Finland, or The Netherlands, Greece, and has had a circulation limited to those countries.

So, when the discographer finds a gap, he is confronted with a riddle: is there a gap because the label hasn’t used that barcode, or simply because the website you are searching does not list the CD, which otherwise exists? That’s why, when typically a barcode doesn’t yield on Amazon, to make sure I search on multiple other websites, Melomania, eBay, Discogs, and ultimately Google (see my blogpost from 10 April 2020 for more on my research methods). If it doesn’t yield after all that, than the odds rise that it doesn’t exist, although it’s not yet a certainty: it could simply not be listed anywhere, I’ve seen it, releases that I knew existed only because I had seen references in magazines, no trace showed up online.

And, so, here’s an interesting case that happened recently. CMS 7 63679 2, barcode 077776367927, is a 4 CD-set published in 1990 on the occasion of the bicentennial anniversary of Mozart’s death, a compilation of chamber Music and piano works. So, in principle, no release until label number 79 + 5 = 7 63684 2 barcode 077776368429. But that barcode, which should have been EMI’s next release, didn’t yield either on the Amazons (France, UK, US). So I used my alternative websites, and Google: nothing. So I was ready to pass on that one; still, as a last resort and just to make absolutely sure, I made a Google search on the label number, “EMI 7 63684 2”, not the barcode (problem with researching barcodes is that, on some websites, they are listed with blanks, as they appear on the back cover of the CD, like 07777x xxx2 y, so search on barcode all-attached won’t yield). And, surprise, puzzlement, it yielded: disc listed litterally around the corner from where I live: on Melomania!

The puzzlement, because, if listed on Melomania, it should have responded to a call on the barcode, 077776368429, and it didn’t. Plus, if a 6-CD set, the next EMI listing should have been 684 + 7 = 077776369129; but, no, 685 is filled (2 CDs EMI Références  CHS 7 63685 2 Mozart Idomeneo conducted by John Pritchard in Glyndebourne barcode 077776368528, then CHS 7 63688 2  Mozart Complete Piano Sonatas by Walter Gieseking on 8 CDs).  So that release, 7 63684 2, if truly attested, would have been one of those “pirate” fill-ins that I occasionally encounter? Plus, Melomania’s listing didn’t provide photos, to enable me to understand the apparent incoherence between label number and barcode: Sibelius by Berglund with the Helsinki Orchestra on 6 CDs, could it be a Japanese edition, which sometimes use Western label numbers but Japanese barcodes? More research didn’t help me corroborate that. Could it be a listing for Warner’s recent (2017) reissue of apparently the same recordings, barcode 0190295869151? But if so, why the label number corresponding to EMI’s releases from 1990, and why did it not show up either when I searched 0190295869151 on Melomania’s website (which takes you to a genuine entry for the Warner set). Plus, their mystery EMI listing said 6 CDs, and the Warner reissue has 5. Of course, that “6” could have been a typing mistake from Melomania…

I wasn’t even sure that all performances were with the Helsinki Philharmonic, Melomania’s product info is not always entirely detailed, and Berglund also did an earlier Sibelius cycle with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra…

After spending an unreasonably large amount of time on the research, I was about to give up and inscribe it in my discography as “dubious”, when I made a last-ditch effort and Google searched on “7636842 (all-attached) Sibelius”. And… bingo: a yield, a selling platform in Finland.

With photos! Eurêka!

…but no image of the barcode unfortunately. You can see part of the barcode of one of the CDs comprising the set, but only the last digits, 688, just enough to figure out that it did not correspond to the set’s label number and didn’t give any lead.

So here’s what I did – “pel piacer di porle in lista”, that’s the (only) motivation Don Giovanni (ever) gives (in the “Champagne” Aria) of his lust for conquest, “for the pleasure of adding her to the list”: with the help of Google’s Finnish to English translator, I registered on the Finnish selling platform and got in touch with the seller. He was kind enough to provide the requested info: the set itself bears no barcode, and contains 6 individual barcoded CDs, themselves Finnish releases badly listed on the major Amazons (if listed at all, but Google search them, and they’ll show up):

CDC 7 47443 2 (Symphonies 4& 7) barcode 077774744324,
CDC 7 49052 2 (Symphonies 1 & 6)  077774905220,
CDC 7 49175 2 (Symphonies 3 & 5)  077774917520,
CDC 7 49511 2 (Symphony No. 2, Oceanides, Finlandia) 077774951123,
CDC 7 47496 8 (2 CDs) Kullervo, Our Native Land, The Origin of Fire 077774749688 (that’s the one whose last digits appear on the photo)

And that makes 6 CDs alright. After some agonizing I decided not to buy it (I don’t even know if seller would have accepted to send outside of Finland): as much as I prefer having first editions, the Warner reissue is more complete (it adds Tapiola) and cheaper. And, yes, they managed to cram it all on 5 CDs.

On the other hand, I did buy some (cheap) EMI rarities that my systematic barcode research fished out of the depths of oblivion:

 

 

(so far in my EMI disography I’ve encountered only one other instalment from that “Baroque Special” series)

 

(rare recordings of David Munrow as flautist – he is recalled more as a conductor of early music, and he died tragically early, less than three years after these recordings)

And this, a real rarity from EMI Spain:

 

More in a next post about some other rarities from Spain: Zarzuela! Stay tune.

But all these hours of research (and writing this post!) for a minuscule entry in my discography! No wonder I don’t finish anything!

 

Alain Damiens contemporary solo clarinet on Adda (1988)

Posted a new review of another old CD from Adda: Alain Damiens playing solo clarinet pieces by Stravinsky, Boulez, Denisov, Stockhausen, Donatoni, Berio, Adda 581066 (1988) and Accord reissues (link will take you directly to review). Can’t say I immensely enjoyed the recital: works for contemporary solo clarinet tend to be catalogs of effects, more “narrative” (clarinet telling a story, and it’s up to the listener to invent which one) than “pure music”. But at least it gave me the opportunity to listen very carefully to Berio’s Sequenza, Stockhausen’s “In Freundschaft” and Boulez’ “Domaines”, so I’m now a better human being.

Quick listen, quick review

Posted a review of Cimarosa’s six Flute Quartets on Adda 581031, from 1988. Adda was an entreprising but short-lived French label from the late 1980s and early 1990s, which I collect. Also, Cimarosa, other than the comic operas for which he retains today a semblance of existence in the minds of the music lovers, wrote marvelous keyboard sonatas, which are a sort of gap between Scarlatti and Haydn – I’ve reviewed a number of recordings on Amazon and need to import them over here. But his flute quartets are inconspicuous, background music. Quick listen, quick review.

Other than that, I’ve been busying myself lately with various discographies, in particular EMI’s budget and mid-price collections from the 1980s and 1990s, and, these last few days, my great work-in-progress: a chronological discography of Toscanini, 1920 to 1954- I don’t know that I’ll be able to complete that one before I die (even leaving out of my survey, as I do, the sonically-subpar Italian pirate issues), and it would be a pity (for the Toscanini fans; I may find some relief in the thought that there are less and less of those).

Another botched entry on Amazon

Looking for a rarity on Amazon.com, Joseph Hector Fiocco’s (1703-1741) Lamentations by Ensemble Concerto under Roberto Gini, a recording from 1992, 2 CDs on the obscure Italian label Giulia, GS 201021, barcode 8011662200204.

FIOCCO - Gini - Lamentations pour la Semaine SainteFIOCCO - Gini - Lamentations pour la Semaine Sainte

 

 

Searching the barcode on Amazon’s search engine takes me instead to Bach Violin Sonatas by London Baroque on EMI Reflexe (link will open a new tab to my discography), label number CDC 7 49203 2 barcode 077774920322 – an entry in itself entirely botched, scanty product info, no product image:

Things are slightly better on Amazon.uk. At least you get the label and indication of the works played.

Here are the front and back cover photo of that EMI Reflexe CD, since the Amazons do not provide it:

 

 

 

Why such a mess? Well, again, because the impenetrable and all-dominating “system”, in its great wisdom (or rather, human error by the ignorant dunces who enter that information), associated two entirely different barcodes, for two entirely different recordings, discs, labels, to one entry:

The result of that situation: if you buy, you don’t know what you get: Bach by London Baroque on EMI Reflexe or Fiocco on Giulia. And that’s through no major fault of the sellers: they just scan the barcode of the disc they have to sell and it is automatically added to the offers. I don’t even blame them for not checking if the entry accords with the CD at hand: I understand that they are mass sellers and don’t have the time for such petty details.

Not that it matters anyway: at 40 £ best price, the offers on Amazon.uk are ludicrously expensive even if you were sure you were buying the Fiocco (and no better on Amazon.fr), and the one at 9.95 on Amazon.com is evidently for the EMI Reflexe CD, as per the seller’s description of the CD condition: “The ‘Made in Japan” audio CD will play flawlessly, guaranteed, despite a number of very light surface marks. Includes a somewhat scuffed jewel case with, in VG or better condition, the pictured cover insert and the rear inlay. NO cut-out or ex-library marks. The track listing for this CD is as follows: 1-4) Sonata, BWV 1021; 5-8) Sonata, BWV 1023; 9) Cantabile, ma un poco adagio, BWV 1019a; 10-12) Sonata, BWV 1022; 13) Fuga, BWV 1026; 14-16) Sonata, BWV 1024. Featured performers are Ingrid Seifert, Charles Medlam and John Toll.”

The entry on Melomania is perfect:

I’m not even going to bother to try and fix things with Amazon. It’s not worth the energy and time I’d have to spend – and more likely, waste.

 

3 for the price of one, or one for the price of 3? Another jinxed barcode

Not that I think this has any interest to anyone but a mad discographer like myself, but just to keep record for myself and as a follow up on my blog post from May 24, I’ve just found another of these (rare) cases where a label gives the same barcode to two different CDs. In this case, it is Chant du Monde (and the true culprit would be Harmonia Mundi, who distributed the label and thus attributed the barcodes), with two issues bearing the same barcode 3149025056559: 288 015/17, 3 CDs with Vassili Sinaiski leading the Moscow Philharmonic in the Complete Tone Poems of Sibelius, and 288 051, Russian Pianno Trios vol. 2 with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Piano trio in C minor and Borodin’s Unfinished Piano Trio by The Moscow Trio, two releases from 1992. I haven’t found any entirely suitable backcover photo online of 288 015/17 (Sibelius), all are unfocused on the vital information: the barcode, but from what I can make out of it, it is indeed the same (and backcover photo is not my only clue; some eBay sellers unmistakably selling the Sibelius set give its barcode as 3149025056559):

Sibelius Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra-and Vassili Sinaiski:

 

The French Amazon entry is typically jinxed:

So again, if you buy on Amazon, you don’t know what you’ll be paying for: 3 for the price of one, or one for the price of 3? Melomania and Rakuten list the barcode only as Russian Piano Trios.

Back to Garnier in Satin Slipper!

Saturday, May 29. I’m back from Opera Garnier! I hadn’t been there for ages – can’t remember when was the last occasion. The gap was due to the pandemic and shut down of all crowd-gathering places, of course, but only partly. Opera tickets are expensive, CDs are cheap, and laziness and temptation of staying-at-home prevails over hours in public transportation and coming-back-late. But it’s when you are force-deprived of something (rather than by choice or laziness) that you truly realize its value. Independent even of what’s being performed in the pit and on stage, what a beautiful place! Palace Garnier indeed…

And the occasion was special too: not your customary Handel or Mozart (now that they’ve built the modern Bastille Opera, that is the kind of repertoire that is confined to the gilded Garnier), but a new opera by French composer Marc-André Dalbavie (a protege of Boulez, born in 1961): Le Soulier de Satin (The Satin Slipper), after the play of French 20th century playwright Paul Claudel (and ambassador, and erstwhile creative partner of Darius Milhaud in the 1920s, and brother of the famous sculptress Camille Claudel).

After I had bought the tickets and proudly annonced it to my companion, she balked a bit: “after Claudel’s play? How long is the opera?” I tried to reassure her: “don’t worry, it’s a contemporary opera, it’s probably not going to be over two hours”. Only then did I look at the indications on the Opera’s website: all compounded, intermissions and all: SIX HOURS! Playing on Saturday, from 2pm to 8pm… Claudel indeed! Does Dalbavie really think he’s Wagner writing Götterdämmerung or Meistersinger? And it is fortunate that the composer and his librettist made cuts! The original play may take 11 hours in performance… It is famous with theatre afficionados in France among Claudel’s output, if only for its unplayability: it is rarely staged, but when it is, it is by very prestigious directors in productions that are always memorable (yes, I’m sure even someone plagued with amnesia would remember spending 11 hours in a theatre): Jean-Louis Barrault in the 1940s to 1980s, Antoine Vitez, Olivier Py…. French playwright (and famous womanizer) Sacha Guitry famously quipped: “fortunately we got only one slipper, not the pair”…

Well then, we took an early and solid lunch, packed our bags with bottles of water and snacks, and off we went, not excluding the option of leaving at one or another of the intermissions if it got too boring.

One positive thing I can say about Dalbavie’s opera is that it is easy to stay until the end. For a former protege of Boulez, the music is surprisingly un-aggressive, easy-to-take, and even, yes, “pretty”. It is filled with Ravelian delicacy, at one point there is a theme played by brass that immediately evoked Britten’s Passacaglia from Peter Grimes, and there are even moments that are quasi-tonal and romantic, including a beautiful duet between Doña Prouhèze (the female lead) and Doña Musique. One of the most fascinating passages was the “Monologue of the Moon”, with the mesmerizing pre-recorded voice of French actress Fanny Ardant.

But here starts the criticism. First, Claudel’s mystical Catholicism is, unless you are a mystical believer yourself, insufferable and close to the corny. What the hell is the matter with these two characters, Doña Prouhèze and Don Rodrigo. Can’t they just recognize that it’s only lust, lust made frantic by religious interdiction and social convention (she’s already married)? Do they really need to couch it in so much incomprehensible Catholic mysticism (I guess they do…). But hey, guys, satisfy yourselves with the thought that, had you mated, it probably wouldn’t have worked out very long between the two of you… we’ve all been there (at least most of us)!

And then, Dalbavie’s music. Okay, so it isn’t aggressive or “repulsive” (in the sense that it doesn’t make you leave the theatre at the first intermission or before). It’s pretty. But the word that came to my mind was also: inconspicuous (or anodyne, innocuous). Beautiful sounds, Ravelian delicacy that seemed, from scene to scene, inter-changeable, and with very little development or change between begining and end, as if (and this may be unfair, of course, it is the reaction from a single hearing) the composer didn’t have the resources or skills to write four and a half hours of music (that’s counting the two intermissions) of true variety.

Another thing bugged me throughout: Dalbavie’s setting to music of Claudel’s French prosody: he trivializes it. French every day language isn’t pronounced as “elevated” or “formal” French, e.g. the language of poetry, or of verse theatre, or even of the “uppity” (which today would sound haughty or snobbish) – and, as with English, it even further deteriorates as times goes. Without even mentioning the cuss words, the French equivalents of the F. word, that everybody today seems to think appropriate to adorn their conversation with, or the useless equivalents of “you know?” or “I mean”, many of the typical French so-called “mute Es” are elided (not pronounced), “liaisons” (pronouncing the last, and normally un-pronounced, consonant of a word, when it is followed by a word starting with a vowel) are not done.

What it does is that it vulgarizes the language – litterally: it makes it sound vulgar. But what is unpleasant enough in the everyday life (and I am not pretending that I do not follow the trend) becomes awful when it is imported into places where it doesn’t belong, like verse theatre, or the opera. And that’s exactly what Dalbavie does: his rhythmic setting to music of Claudel’s poetic language elides all the mute Es and skips all the liaisons. His characters speak Claudel’s language as if it were today’s everyday French.

Can’t entirely blame Dalbavie for doing so, when even the young (or not so young) generation of theatre people are total ignoramuses in those matters of French poetry and poetic pronunciation. Television won. But it shows, in my opinion, not only a terrible aesthetic taste (if you don’t feel that daily pronunciation is plain ugly and vulgar, and that following the rules of poetic pronunciation gives a musicality to the language that constitutes its beauty, then, sorry, you have no taste, and no culture), and not only a complete betrayal of the poet’s language, but also a fundamental misunderstanging of what theatre (or opera) fundamentally is: NOT “day-to-day reality” (or the actors/singers wouldn’t be “clowning” on a stage!!!), but a transfiguration of reality, to express things that remain concealed in reality. The language they speak or sing on stage sounds “artificial”? Sure it does! Everything on stage is “artificial”, singing out your phrases is very rarely done in everyday life and you probably wouldn’t hold on very long to your job if you fancied doing so, and those people on stage don’t actually die when they are killed! But the goal and challenge of the actor / singer is to make that “artificiality” sound entirely natural to the audience: not because it is the language of the audience; but because the audience accepts that it is the language of those characters who are “clowning” on stage. To put it in other words, to me the goal and challenge of the actor / singer (and composer!) is not to lower the poetic language to the level of their daily language, but to elevate themselves, and their audience, to the beauties of that poetic language. And that’s what Dalbavie’s vocal writing lamentably failed to do. The fact that the opera was surtitled didn’t help either (although it did help intelligibility), because I could read them first and pronounce them in my mind before actually hearing them, and hearing them was always a painful letdown.

Dalbavie’s vocal writing isn’t very original either: lots of quasi-parlando or even sprechgesang, and the customary upward-rising phrases when dramatic tension built, the stock-and-trade of vocal writing. It is hard to reconcile innovative vocal writing and intelligibility, even though, even there, the surtitles helped (although the surtitlist was terribly clumsy). The writing for the character of Doña Prouhèze also required a lot of chest voice from the singer, which wasn’t her best range.

Despite its length, not a very memorable moment then – maybe that’s why I’ve written this review, then. I must mention one special treat of the occasion, though: because all restrictions have not yet been lifted on crowd-gathering venues, Garnier was filled at only half, or perhaps one-third capacity (I don’t know if a contemporary opera would have drawn a larger audience otherwise, but let’s leave them the benefit of the doubt…). The incredible privilege that it was, not only to be in Palais Garnier, but to benefit from an 8-seat central 3rd balcony box… for just me and my companion!

I took the opportunity to pull out of my shelves two Dalbavie CDs, that I’ll try and review ASAP.