The Rambler :: blog

Monday, July 11, 2005

Hungaroton Records 

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Recently I've begun collecting old Hungaroton and Polskie Nagrania LPs. Through the 60s and 70s great quantities of new music from the two countries was recorded and internationally released. Many of these composers, while heavily promoted and sometimes briefly successful, have fallen through the historical cracks, along with a lot of interesting, surprising and often very fine music. Much of this music stands no chance of ever being easily available on CD, so these LPs are pretty much one-off recordings. What's more, as un-hip as this stuff is (compared to the Glasses, Cages, Henrys and Stockhausens of the world), it's usually available for seriously knock-down prices. Most of the records I bought on my first run to Notting Hill's Music and Video Exchange had obviously been languishing in the racks for years, and several were only £1.

I've more or less cleared out MVE for the time being, and while in Paris recently I made a point of seeking out a decent second-hand classical record shop. I found one, and hugely recommend La dame blanche, a couple of minutes walk from the Panthéon. The owner recognised I was keen to walk away with a lot of Hungarian (and Polish) vinyl and directed me to their private stock room at the back of the shop, filled floor to ceiling with 10-20,000 records. Handing me a tall stepladder - which still didn't reach the top shelves - he indicated the two cases of contemporary music. Unfortunately, he could only grant me a short space of time and my wallet could only grant me a certain number of Euros so I couldn't go the whole hog, but I did at least have plenty to drag back to Waterloo at the end of the weekend. Saving for a future trip is in order.

In the midst of researching my PhD, I'm also collecting copies of every record review of new Hungarian and Polish music published in all the major journals in the UK which, along with score reviews and live reviews, I'm using to build a picture of the reception history of Eastern bloc contemporary music in the UK during the Cold War. Gradually the two collections are starting to overlap, and I can actually listen to the recordings in tandem with the reviews themselves. This is interesting to the extent that it gives me a picture of what aspects of the music reviewers were choosing to pick up on – and by extension what aspects they were choosing to neglect, but it's also interesting to see to what extent the picture of new Hungarian composition presented to readers of British music journals in the 1960s and 70s tallies with the picture I get from listening to the records today. Along with the fact that so much of this music passed under the radar and may well languish there for eternity, I smell fertile blogging territory, and I intend to explore that in forthcoming posts. Yes, it's another ambitious prog-blog concept that may never fully see the light of day, but you've got to have a go, haven't you? Expect bite-size reviews of some of these records to crop up here from time to time; I'm also working on getting some of this stuff digitised, so who knows what the future may bring...

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