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 Recording of the Week  Still suffering some seventy years on?

There is a fascinating article in the latest International Record Review in which Robert Matthew-Walker describes how he believes that classical music is still suffering from the aftermath of Hitler. I was quite taken aback reading such an assertion, as it is not something I had ever even considered before. He bases his argument on the fact that there are fewer conductors and pianists around these days for whose appearances he 'would fight to get a seat', and that this is a direct result of the rise of, and subsequent fight against, fascism between 1933 and 1945.

After 1933 in Germany, people were appointed because of race, not competence, and many gifted performers and composers were forced to abandon or escape German-controlled Europe or were sent to concentration camps and murdered. In addition, the allied bombing of German cities reduced many concert halls, opera houses and music colleges to ruins. As a result, the direct line of teaching and musical dissemination that had flourished so fruitfully in German speaking Europe for centuries was broken and could never be repaired.

Now while I can understand that this would have had a negative effect on music making in much of Western Europe for some decades afterwards, is it really still a valid argument some seventy years later? I suspect not, and furthermore surely any emigration of great musicians out of Germany would have had an equally positive effect on music making in the countries that they emigrated to.

I think a far more likely explanation for a smaller number of artists that one might 'fight to get a seat' for today is because through recordings we can now compare today’s artists with the great artists of the past. A new Beethoven Piano Sonata disc by someone of immense talent like Paul Lewis isn’t just compared to his contemporaries but now also has to win favourable comparisons against the likes of Schnabel and Rubinstein.