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By Joel Kasow

NEW YORK, 29 November 2006—Americans should be grateful to National Public Radio, one of the few (relatively) untainted voices of the national and local media. The NPR Listener’s Encyclopedia of Classical Music is a useful tool for neophyte listeners and those who want just a quick reminder about a composer, work, or musical term. Such a tool is always the reflection of the author’s prejudices so that—for opera—there is no entry for Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites while we do find an entry for Pfitzner’s Palestrina , strange considering that the former is on its way to repertory status.

The "in" composers of today are there (Adams, Glass, Reich, Adès) but nothing about various composers of the previous generation such as Peter Mennin, David Diamond, Douglas Moore and even the operatically prolific Carlisle Floyd, to cite a few examples, though space is found for Lukas Foss and Randall Thomson. Four pages are devoted to American Mavericks and New Voices, but the choices are certainly idiosyncratic. There is also the question of cross-referencing, so that while there is an entry "castrato" in which mention is made of Mozart’s Idomeneo, in the entry devoted to the opera there is no mention of a castrato or that the role in question was later revised for tenor.

Cities and venues in the United States are included but not those elsewhere. On the credit side are the biographical entries devoted to performers, although Christian Thielemann does not make the cut. The entries are all upbeat, so there is no description of the textual difficulties of Carmen or Contes d’Hoffmann or L’incoronazione di Poppea; while the nastiness with respect to Jean Martinon’s tenure in Chicago is too lightly glossed over.

Recommendations for listening are sometimes quite personal, meaning they would not necessarily be my choices. In association with Naxos Records, one can listen to over 500 selections on the Naxos website, which does not tell us who the performers are.

The NPR Listener's Encyclopedia of Classical Music
By Ted Libbey 
Paperback: 928 pages
Workman Publishing Company (11 April 2006)
ISBN: 0761120726

Joel Kasow is a senior editor at Culturekiosque.com

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