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 Recording of the Week  20 Years of NMC

There aren’t many record companies that are also registered charities, but that is the case with the label NMC, which is almost exclusively devoted to releasing and promoting works by living British composers.

Colin Matthews
Colin Matthews

NMC was founded in 1989 by Colin Matthews with the financial support of the Holst Foundation. The initials in the name stood for ‘New Music Cassettes’ which just 20 years ago was still the most common format for recordings. The Holst Foundation had built a substantial fund from the revenue gained from the composer’s music (particularly The Planets) and although most of his music had by then gone out of copyright, the foundation was set on using its funds to help promote contemporary music. Twenty years on the foundation still provides the backbone of funding for NMC, underwriting all the administrative costs of the label. Furthermore a change in EU legislation in the mid 1990s extended the copyright term of printed music from 50 to 70 years and so Holst’s music went back into copyright and the foundation suddenly found a new, and very lucrative source of further revenue. This resulted in a further expansion of NMC’s catalogue with big projects like Birtwistle’s Mask of Orpheus and Anthony Payne’s realisation of Elgar’s Third Symphony suddenly becoming possible.

To celebrate their 20th Anniversary NMC has commissioned and released a boxset called ‘The NMC Songbook’. At first glance it is a surprising choice (as there was previously very little song on the label), but I think that was probably partly the reason behind it – to help redress the balance a little. Also, in the form of a short song they had found a way of involving as many composers and performers as possible and provide the listener with a wide range of styles and subjects – I suppose a sort of ‘something for everyone’.

The result is spectacular. Nearly 100 composers are represented (including a small handful for whom we previously had no CDs listed) and the singers are of the highest calibre. The texts for the songs were chosen by the composers and cover a vast array of subjects, from well-known poems by Blake and Byron through to a list of the Kings and Queens of England, extracts from a National Trust brochure, chants from the Leyton Orient terraces (a football team in East London, which incidentally is the team I’ve followed since a kid), a whisky recipe, and a colourful rant about road rage.

The whole project has been really well put together and comes highly recommended. I’ve also put a short introductory video on the website which tells you a bit more about it.

The NMC Songbook

4-CD set with special packaging and a 60-page booklet

Available Format: 4 CDs