Tower Records Sets New Heights In Classical Music

July 14, 1991|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

A hole in the Annapolis area's cultural fabric has been stitched shut. We now have a real live classical music store in our midst. Tower Records has opened and some of the results are in.

Its collection is sizable, the atmosphere amenable to extended browsing, piles of "cheapo" releases abound and -- praise God -- there is no deafening kiddie music assaulting your aesthetic sensibilities, as in the mall stores.

If it's not quite the cavernous Tower Records near Lincoln Centerin New York City, so what? The Metropolitan Opera hasn't moved to Patuxent Boulevard, either.

Regular readers know that I have -- on several occasions -- begged, ranted, raved, joked, cajoled, pleaded and primarily screamed for a genuine classical record/CD store to call our own.

Tower's eventual inclusion of Annapolis as a link in its chain took on messianic dimensions for me, or so my prose suggested: Route 2 and Patuxent Boulevard becoming "holy ground" and all that.

But cutesy hyperbole aside, Tower's presence in Annapolis is of more than passing significance to local classical music lovers for several reasons.

When Edison cranked up that first phonograph, all betswere off: The concert hall ceased to be the only musical game in town.

It's impossible for any of us to imagine a time when you couldn't learn Beethoven's "Eroica" by plunking the needle down on Toscanini and the NBC Orchestra or establish a relationship with the Chopin Nocturnes by dialing up Artur Rubinstein on your CD player.

Recordings redefined our contact with music.

And music, for better or worse, is a medium of repetition. We tend to like and seek out what we already know.

But the simple availability of recordings charts one admittedly incremental course for steering clear of the rut. If you hear Beethoven's First Symphony on the radio and like it, you may indeed run out and buy it. Before long, you may get curious and purchase a second Beethoven symphony, and when that happens, can a niftily packaged Beethoven integral set of the nine be far off?

Great music is a lot like peanuts. It's awfully tough to stop at one after you've sampled one.

An accessible, well-stocked, reasonably priced, major-league music store can only make the classics more irresistible to those who've taken -- or are gearing up to take -- the plunge.

For the serious collector like myself, a local Tower cuts out the overhead (gas, lunch, metro fare, etc.) that accompanies a jaunt to the Washington Tower or the Baltimore alternatives.

But, most important, it also presents the luxury of choice. You might find a single overpriced Faure Requiem at the Annapolis Mall, for example, but a quick look through the Faure bin at Tower would reveal performances conducted by Shaw, Cluytens, Dutoit, Barenboim, Rutter, Hickox and Ansermet. Ah, the luxury of choice. And none of them cost 17 bucks, either.

But what does variety mean to the "average" buyer? Confusion? Or worse,intimidation?

Not necessarily, especially if the help is knowledgeable. Diversity, for one thing, makes price shopping possible. And arange of choices can be an incentive to do a bit of research on the premises. There are several well-written, fun-to-read guides to "bestperformances," and like any self-respecting classical emporium, Tower has these strewn about for browsing purposes.

And how about thatwonderful phenomenon known as "cut-outs"? You see, record companies make mistakes -- big ones. They overproduce releases, delete them or re-release them differently, which makes the earlier incarnation superfluous. All of which means lots of discs available at dirt-cheap prices.

Let's say you attended last April's Annapolis Chorale Concertand heard tenor Gary Leard sing Gerald Finzi's lovely "A Farewell toArms."

Now, Finzi is hardly a household word, but if you liked the piece and had then seen an anthology of other works by the British composer on a disc costing all of $7, maybe you'd be tempted to explore a bit of the man's music. So much for ruts. For $6 or $7, what thehell, take a chance!

That's the beauty of cut-out bins, and only real nice music stores have them. Ask for cut-outs in other Annapolisrecord stores and they'll think you made a wrong turn at the toy department.

Next season's Annapolis Symphony Orchestra concerts feature the Second Symphony and Violin Concerto of Johannes Brahms, Mendelssohn's "Reformation" Symphony, Beethoven's Fifth, Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique," the Mozart Oboe Concerto, and Franck's Symphonic Variations. And now there's finally someplace accessible for local musiclovers to go should they wish to bone up on the masterpieces that lie ahead.

Of his record player, Aldous Huxley wrote, "I have music here in a box, shut up like one of those bottled genies in the "Arabian Nights," and ready at a touch to break out of its prison."

I second the motion.

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