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Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2008: Day 5

img  Tobias

London has a population of roughly eight million. Surely, there must be plenty of places to buy classical music. Or are there? In fact, even locals will only be able to point to you towards the stores of the big franchises and even though there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it would of course be nice to find those small stores run by fans somewhere in a sidestreet, far from the maddening crowds. If you have a recommendation to make, please let me know!

The first shop I find on my stay here is Zavvi at Piccadily Circus. I have just arrived and there is still some time, so I simply walk into it, not even knowing about this being one of the former Virgin Megastores. Its classical department is separated from Pop, Rock, Dance and Jazz by means of glass walls, sealing it off acoustically from the noises outside. As a shopping experience, the room is alluring, offering plenty of titles arranged in an intuitive and sensible fashion and with lots of space between shelves. There are even some chairs, allowing you to sit down and flick through the backissues of several Classical music magazines for free. The DVD section isn't half bad either. If there is something to complain about it must be the fact that the background music is turned up so loud it is making it hard to proof-listen to some music on headphones.

Virgin Megastores, meanwhile, haven't disappeared completely. Their branch on Oxford Street is still impressive, a huge hall offering a vast selection of music. The classical section looks almost identical to the one in Zavvi, even though it might be just a little smaller. Staff are extremely helpful and there are some amazing discounts -  such as the 5CD Steve Reich anthology from Nonesuch for a mere 15£ (22,50€ or $30).

The real deal, however, must surely be MDC. One of their stores is integrated into the premises of the Royal Festival Hall, along the Thames promenade. It is a small shop, but its selection is exquisite. There is a wide selection of standard repertoire as well as some more unusual finds. There are large sections of Classical, Contemporary, Jazz and World Music and even a collection of art house cinema and audio books. A composer like Philip Glass is represented with a huge choice and there are innumerable different interpretations of Handel's “Messiah” alone. MCD, quite obviously, is not the place to go hunting for bargains, even though its prices are certainly reasonable. But the charm of its dedication, which has persisted for 15 years, more than makes up for this. There is, by the way, a second store on St. Martin's Lane.

If you want to go looking for music in other genres, there are several places to go: Fopp on Earlham Street in Covent Garden is a sort of high-price free zone, its products hardly ever topping 10£ and including several classics. On Berwick Street, Soho, there are no less than two excellent outfits: Sister Ray Records, a real alternative, with its selection of Avantgarde-, Electronic- and Psychedelic Records (among others), a lot of it on Vinyl. Just a few metres on, there's Revival Records, specialising in second hand editions for a hard-beat-price. If you follow Berwick Street to Broadwick Street and turn left, you are already almost standing inside of Sound of the Universe, the record store of the Souljazz label. The shop is small and filled with people, but the mood is one of real excitement and positivity – in fact spending some time here feels like going to a fantastic party on a regular weekday. Their selection of Funk, Soul, Dance and Avantgarde records is also quite stimulating and little file cards with a personal introduction to the music make you all curious about the sounds inside.

(To read on, use the table of contents on top of the right hand side)

Article in serie

1 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2008
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