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The Music Box

By Donald M. Blinken

Any honest appraisal shows clearly that the quality of the British phonograph recording industry is well ahead of ours, and present developments, step by step, are widening their edge. This state of affairs results from a fundamental difference in the American and British approaches towards music. The hucksters have taken over American music and bigger sales and profits and poorer standards are the order of the day. With an infinitely smaller market the British industry remains essentially one which furthers music a san art, with the search for perfection the keynote of their policy.

The serious music lover finds little to cheer about these days on the local record scene. Victor and Columbia catalogues are incomplete or inaccurate; lists of many important recordings are missing and fine albums have been out of stock for years. The quality of twelve inch disks, while improved since the war, is still ragged, with imperfect surfaces and edges and gritty tone creeping up all too often. Needless duplication of the Tschaikowsky, Beeethoven, and Brahms symphonies wastes precious material while the lesser known but valuable works of such composers as Mozart, Purcell, and most moderns are sadly neglected. American catalogues list seven versions of Brahms's First Symphony and none of Mozart's important Seventh Clarinet Trio in E flat.

Typical of the commercial trend is the new Record Album-of-the-Month Club, an illogical offspring of the book club species, Serving no original function, the Club duplicates already excellent record reviews such as those of the Gramophone Shop and Bernard Haggin, while high-pressuring gramophone owners into buying albums of similar music which they could have purchased all along. Encouraging musical inertia and lack of discrimination, the new group misses a chance to concentrate on new music, and winds up by mailing the dances from "Prince Igor" one month and "Annie Get Your Gun" the next.

Across the ocean, the British companies continue to turn out flawless waxings, using the best materials and employing the latest technique. A recent stride has been the hush-hush releasing of high-frequency recordings done at 14,000 rather than the standard 10,000 kilocycles. At no extra cost, these recordings, so far only a half-dozen in number, feature bell-clear treble and bass tones and bring the overall effect of FM broadcasting to records.

British catalogues are quite complete, with listings of most minor works and rare, hard-to-sell large sets such as Purcell's great opera. "Dido and Aeneas." With less spent on advertising and technicolor album covers, the British customer gets more for his money in finer records. We can only hope that the American industry will once again set its sights on the target of better records and will turn towards quality when it has sated its appetite for huge profits. It would be refreshing again to have music for music's sake the rule in the platter business.

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