Just back from two weeks in London and Paris, including a visit to the Gramophone Awards on Friday afternoon. It’s been more than a decade since I last attended the Awards. I remember them at the Savoy Hotel (I think), a slightly more glamorous but sedate affair. Now they’re at the Dorchester and they roll along with polished professionalism. Classical musicians, disciplined by the rigours of meter and rhythm, know how to give a snappy thank you and get off the stage. No long speeches and only a few moments of unseemly self-promotion. The affair is surprisingly fun, and a good chance to make a wish list of recordings you’ve missed over the past year (must lay hands on Charles Mackerras’s recording of Martinü’s Julietta Fragments).
A young string quartet from France, the Quatour Ebène, walked off with the Record of the Year, a surprise given the strong contenders and emotional favorites also in the running. But it was good to see a young group, and a chamber group, get the top prize, and the speech given by violist Mathieu Herzog was charmingly aw shucks. At one point, he pulled out his cell phone camera to take a snap of the audience.
I begrudge none of the winners their awards. But there were some disappointments and surprises. I was rooting for the Boston Early Music Festival’s recording of Lully’s Pscyhé, really a remarkable accomplishment, to win in the Baroque Vocal category. Festival by festival, the Boston players get stronger and more cohesive, and their track record of opera on disk is something that deserves wider and higher recognition. The festival is run rather provincially, unfortunately, which is one reason I think it hasn’t become quite the international draw it could be if it was better organized. But their opera offerings are always worth the effort, and the Lully recording is impressive by any standard. The award went, instead, to Harry Christophers and the Sixteen, for a disk of the Handel Coronation Anthems. They were also nominated in the Choral Category for their disk of late 19th, early 20th century British choral standards (which I thoroughly enjoyed, as readers of this post will remember).
The only downside of the awards was the loud and buxom woman sitting a table away who was hitting the vin rouge and blanc as fast they brought it. She was very handsy with the large, saturnine fellow next to her, and they both talked and sneered and grimaced through all of the performances (including some lovely samples from the winning Contemporary recording, the NMC Soundbook, which I haven’t heard and now want very much to find). It was piggish behavior, and something innocent Americans think shouldn’t exist in the imaginary land of English politesse. Dodging pools of vomit on the streets of Soho shatters that naïve illusion, but you don’t expect supporting evidence from a formal occasion of music types. I wonder who she was?