Tag Archives: Recorded Music

An Eloquent Story





by Neville Cohn



Not quite 80 years ago, a young employee – Walter Legge –  of His Master’s Voice records came up with an idea to boost sales: a limited edition of HMV recordings of German lieder, all by Hugo Wolf, and these would be made available only to those who became members of the Hugo Wolf Society. Top liners such as Elena Gerhardt, John McCormack and Alexander Kipnis made these recordings. Most of the piano accompaniments were by Coenraad Bos. It was a revolutionary idea at the time. Those sets are now collectors’ items.













Cyrus Meher-Homji in Monte Carlo



Years later, there was another good idea at the dawn of the LP era: advertisements arrived by post offering an LP with accompanying booklet at a knockdown price. The writer, as a schoolboy growing up in provincial Cape Town, recalls the enthusiasm with which thousands ordered their first long playing records. But the recordings were of third rate musicians and the recorded sound was terrible. So, what ought to have been a clever and effective entree to the LP world was a fizzer.




The thought and care lavished on the first initiative and the slapdash nature of the LP venture exemplify the best and worst of the recording world.


A very much more recent development is the Eloquence series of compact disc recordings that are reaching an ever-growing number of listeners.


The brainchild of Cyrus Meher-Homji, these recordings are not only invariably of high standard but the product of the most careful consideration in relation to what works share the same disc.


Meher-Homji, whose energy and enthusiasm are bywords in the industry, works tirelessly to find, and present to best advantage, the cream of recorded music. Most, but not all, the material, would originally have been recorded on LP – but there are also tracks from as far back as the 78rpm shellac era. Unsurprisingly, the care lavished on Eloquence CDs has drawn favourable comment from leading figures in music journalism.





Tully Potter, author of the newly published book on Alfred Busch and contributor to several leading classical music publications, points out that “before I ever had anything to do with Cyrus Meher-Homji, I used to bring back copies of Eloquence CDs from my trips to Australia. The label seemed to be very well directed, with elegant, attractive packaging and good engineering, and it restored useful recordings to the catalogue”. As well, Potter makes the point that it is “difficult to explain to the modern record executive constantly talking about ‘product’, that many of us really love records.


“We loved 78rpm discs, we loved LPs and we have grown to love CDs. When we speak to Cyrus, we know instinctively that he is one of those rare people in the record industry who shares our enthusiasm.


“The CD explosion has been extraordinary, providing us with an unheard-of wealth of available music. Although I constantly hear irritating technocrats foretelling the death of the CD, I think it will see most of us out; and Eloquence will continue to please those of us who prefer something tangible to a mere download.”


With the unquenchable enthusiasm and optimism that he brings to his constant search for ever more material for the Eloquence range, Meher-Homji reminds one, in a sense, of Heinrich Schliemann. That famed archaeologist tracked down the golden treasure of ancient Troy and sent the naysayers, those who said it was a pipe dream, a wild goose chase, packing. Certainly, there’s musical gold in the LP and 78rpm treasures that Meher-Homji, a latter day musical Schliemann, has rescued from virtual oblivion.




Rob Cowan, Gramophone critic and BBC Radio 3 broadcaster, says:”There’s a common gripe amongst collectors in the UK about CD manufacturers and their planning staff: why do they keep re-issuing that same old material and, even more perplexing, why do they insist on coupling what they do reissue so badly?


“Then along comes Cyrus Meher-Homji and suddenly it seems that all our prayers are being answered at once………well, not all maybe, because his influence can’t extend beyond the Universal stable!


“Here is someone who is willing to cast a careful and knowing eye across back catalogues not merely in search of ‘big names’ (though they often feature on his schedules) but in the interests of the longer-term collectors whose vinyl days are over and who yearn to revisit a favourite recording that has long been deleted.”


Cowan points out that Ernest Ansermet’s 50-year-tenure as head of the Suisse Romande Orchestra yielded an avalanche of recordings, performances “notable for their logic, clarity, musical intuition, authentic feeling and, not infrequently, a sense of excited involvement.“  Now, Meher-Homji is doing sterling work in getting this  musical treasure trove to a new audience.


Eloquence CDs are competitively priced. Meher-Homji says the low cost “attracts students especially, as well as the casual buyer. People shopping for Eloquence anecdotally seldom buy just a single CD. They feel courageous enough to flick through the range and purchase a handful.




“Retail price is $10 for a single, $15 for 2-CD sets up to $30 for  5-CD sets. By way of comparison, a single “full price” CD ranges anywhere from $24 to $38”, says Meher-Homji.


Getting Eloquence CDs from an idea to a place on the retail shelf is hugely time consuming – “sourcing the material from the archives, ordering the masters, often checking LP copies for timings where they don’t exist for older masters, commissioning the liner notes (and sometimes using the original LP notes), proofing the booklet, checking the masters with very keen ears”.


Meher-Homji points out, too, that almost 90% of his work on the Eloquence range is done after hours and at home. “There’s simply not the time to do it at work. In a sense, it’s my contribution to the record industry – sometimes at the expense of a life!”


Sales statistics speak for themselves. Over the last decade, an average of over 200,000 Eloquence CDs have marched off the shelves each year.


Meher-Homji is that rarity, an ideas man who has the capacity to bring those ideas to fruition.


Consider this: For some time now, those who attend opera productions at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth have had good reason to think well of the Eloquence series as Meher-Homji has ensured that an Eloquence CD featuring highlights of whatever opera is on, is available, as well as programmes, in the theatre foyers. For growing numbers of opera lovers, the CD is as much about the opera experience as anything.




Extolling Meher-Homji’s skill in compiling CDs – in relation, say, to Ansermet’s vast recorded output, Cowan writes: “Now there have been other Ansermet series around but only Cyrus has the imagination to – for example – produce a Prokofiev double-pack that includes both the mono and stereo versions of the ‘Classical Symphony’, interpretations that are chalk and cheese. All you need to do is play the first minute or so on both recordings to realise that. Most secondary exploitation’ managers would have chosen one or the other version, leaving you to follow your own curiosity, often at great expense.


“That’s the big difference”, writes Rob Cowan. “Cyrus’ CDs are well-planned, well filled, invariably well annotated and full of little unexpected extras, such as the (hitherto) unissued tracks on his Kirsten Flagstad CDs.


“But more than anything, they are the work of a man who cares, who has the collector’s interests at heart and for that reason has earned himself many well-deserved accolades. Long may he thrive.”

Keyboard Sonatas (Domenico Cimarosa) Volume 1

557541bk Kelemen 3+3 

Victor Sangiorgio (piano)

Naxos 8.570718

TPT: 66’49”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


During the interval at a symphony concert recently, I conducted an impromptu mini-poll. What do you know about Cimarosa, I asked a number of concertgoers at random. Cimarosa? In many cases, the response was a blank look. If I’d posed the same question of opera goers, there would almost certainly have been a more positive response. Cimarosa? Isn’t he the one who wrote Il Matrimonio Segreto? Yes, it is and, an uncommonly industrious man, he turned out operas at the drop of a hat – and had them performed across Europe. His operatic output was colossal; he wrote no fewer than 60, of which nowadays it is only The Secret Marriage that gets anything like regular performance.


Understandably, this hardworking opera composer wouldn’t have had much spare time to indulge his creativity in other directions. Yet, in addition to his operatic labours, the industrious Cimarosa somehow found the time to write a great deal of music for the keyboard which, until very recently, has had very little exposure. It’s been one of music’s better kept secrets.


In the days of 78 rpm shellac gramophone discs, each of which might run for up to, say, 4 minutes, the chances of any company putting the complete Cimarosa sonatas on records would have been remote.  In the early decades of the 20th century, many, if not most, families might have possessed a very small record collection. Used again and again, dust and other detritus would settle in the groove to provide an extraneous repertoire of hisses, crackles and pops, all accepted in those days as part of the miracle of being able to turn on music at any time of the day or night. And when wind-up gramophones gave way to electrically powered turntables, it seemed as if the ultimate way of experiencing recorded music had arrived.


Along the way, LP records, then cassette tapes, were touted as the ultimate in music-reproduction finesse and unlikely ever to be surpassed. The LP, in particular, was rich in possibility in that, for the first time, one could listen, uninterrupted, to, say, half a symphony before needing to put the flipside on the turntable. It was this that paved the way to current conditions where compact discs, with their significantly longer run-times, rule the roost, with recordings that provide uninterrupted listening of an hour or even more – as on this CD which contains just under 67 minutes’ worth of keyboard music.


But while CDs are the currently the favoured means for recording works of great length, it is only for the present. Doubtless in some laboratory or perhaps a shed in a suburban backyard somewhere, the next generation of recording techniques is about to be born, to be hailed as the ultimate until it, too, is overtaken by some other electronic miracle.


Until that happens – and it will – let’s make the most of compact disc recordings which have opened enticing new vistas for those seeking the rare and the novel. One of the most charm-laden compilations now available is this first volume of Cimarosa sonatas played by Victor Sangiorgio.


There are fifty tracks making up eighteen sonatas, the first of a series devoted to the complete sonatas of Cimarosa. Although the works vary in quality, even the least of them is worth listening to – and a great deal of that attraction derives from the musicality and musicianship that Victor Sangiorgio brings to every moment of this recording.


Sangiorgio is that rarity: a musician who scrupulously avoids interposing himself between composer and listener. In each of these tracks, he allows the music to speak for itself; it is like a golden thread through this compilation.


In the opening movement of the Sonata in A, R2 Sangiorgio is rivetingly brilliant.

Contrasting tonal colours are a feature of the second movement which leads into a gracefully stated finale. In Sonata in D, R3 (most of this compilation is in the major mode) busily nimble, buoyant note streams give way to fanfare-like figurations and a finale with an impeccably stated left hand line.  And the gigue with which Sonata in D, R5 draws to a close is a model of clarity and refulgent sound.


Whilst these works are, for the most part, eminently listenable, they are not of any particular depth or profundity. So it is immensely to the credit of Victor Sangiorgio that his interpretations are so finely realised that, for the duration of most of these little works, the sonatas sound more significant than they in fact are – and that represents a very considerable feat of musicianship.


There’s much musical finesse here. Savour it: there’s more to come from Sangiorgio – and from Naxos which does invaluable work in placing largely forgotten music such as this on compact disc.