There is no end of fretting in the classical music world.
Just look at the record business. The major labels have nearly ceased recording new cycles of Schubert symphonies and Wagner operas, perhaps finally realizing that the multitude of performances already available may be just about enough. Lowest-common-denominator crossover albums crowd the catalog. Clueless record executives seem able to discern the fact that there's an audience but can't quite figure out how to tap it.
These are appropriate concerns. But there are also signs of new life in classical music, which are apparent to anyone who looks for them.
No longer do emerging pianists automatically feel compelled to compete with Rubinstein by doing yet another Chopin program. Emerging conductors now realize they can follow in the footsteps of Frtwangler without mimicking him in Beethoven. In other words, there are plenty of new musicians with new musical ideas.
Moreover, it is relatively cheap and easy to make a CD these days, and small, independent labels are often eager to take chances with new artists and new repertory. The Times' music critics take a look a few of these emerging artists and their CDs:
* * * HESSENBERG Symphony No. 2; Concerto No. 1 for Orchestra Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Leland Sun, conductor Cassandra Records
Leland Sun spent several years behind the scenes at Los Angeles Opera, rehearsing and coaching singers, until entering the spotlight last year leading the premiere of the chamber opera "On Gold Mountain." On this recording, we find Sun, a USC graduate, unearthing a major 43-minute symphony written for Frtwangler and the Berlin Philharmonic. It caused a small sensation at its premiere, but then was forgotten (before this recording, it had only one other performance in more than half a century). The problem was that the premiere was in Berlin in 1944. Although apparently not a Nazi sympathizer, Kurt Hessenberg, a classically minded composer and respected teacher in Frankfurt, remained in Germany during the war, and that fact seems to have ruined his postwar international career. The symphony is impressively grand but not original in voice--at places Hindemith seems to have walked right in and written a few bars. The same is true for the Concerto, although the tone is lighter. Sun, however, leads commanding, committed, even winning, performances of music that hardly plays itself.