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 Recording of the Week  A&R and Kate Royal's Midsummer Night

One of the things which I’ve enjoyed discovering since I joined Presto Classical nearly eight years ago is how the record industry works behind the scenes. A lot of it is pretty much as you would imagine with record labels employing different people for things like marketing, press and sales, but one division that I was previously hardly even aware of was the A&R (Artists and Repertoire) division.

A&R is a hugely important part of a record label as it is the people who work in that division who find and sign new artists, and are also responsible for working with the artists to decide what repertoire to record and what to put together on their CD releases. At the major labels this might be a small team of people, while at the medium to small labels one or more of the senior staff at the label would more typically do it along with their other roles.

It strikes me that making up a good programme for a CD is either quite easy or incredibly difficult. Some works are long enough to take up a whole CD, while others are substantial enough to require only a small ‘filler’. A lot of works are shorter but have a fairly obvious pairing (for example the Mendelssohn and Bruch Violin Concertos, which are often put together).

Hilary Hahn
Hilary Hahn

But move outside the main repertoire and it suddenly gets a lot harder. I wonder what went through the mind of Hilary Hahn’s A&R manager when she announced that she wanted to record the rarely performed Schoenberg Violin Concerto. I suspect composers like Berg and Stravinsky were considered first, but would a fairly contemporary programme like that appeal to all Hilary Hahn’s more mainstream fans? In the end they opted for the Sibelius Concerto I suspect mainly on the commercial grounds of it being the most popular concerto that she hadn’t already recorded. Sometimes a disc can be delayed for years by the label trying to think of an appropriate programme. EMI for example recorded the Thomas Adès Violin Concerto nearly two years ago, but they haven’t found anything to put with it yet so it still hasn’t been released on CD.

Kate Royal (stuck in a tree)
Kate Royal (stuck in a tree)

Finding good selections of songs and arias for singers to record must be a lot of fun, but also very difficult. Unless you are going for a single composer disc or a real popular aria selection you need to come up with a concept to connect the programme together. Kate Royal’s new album ‘Midsummer Night’ for example features songs from operas and operettas about love (both the enjoyment and suffering of), all written since 1900. They have different compositional styles and indeed are in different languages, but they all have the same sort of pensive, emotional and beautiful qualities.

Another nice idea with this programme is the mixing of a few well-known arias with some quite rare ones. The Korngold aria from Die tote Stadt is just as beautiful as Dvorak’s Song to the Moon but you don’t hear it very often, while the lovely romance from William Alwyn’s Miss Julie I’ve never heard before. The whole disc is superbly performed by Kate Royal whose beautifully lush voice has the same richness and fullness of tone right through her range. She is brilliantly supported by the Orchestra of the English National Opera under Edward Gardner whose familiarity and understanding of the operatic genre is so vital to accurately portray the characterisation which so many of the composers write into the orchestral parts. It is hugely enjoyable and one of those discs which is very hard to put down. It therefore comes as my recommendation of the week.

Schoenberg and Sibelius Violin Concertos

Hilary Hahn (violin) Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Kate Royal – Midsummer Night

Kate Royal (soprano), Orchestra of the English National Opera & Crouch End Festival Chorus, Edward Gardner

Available Formats: MP3, CD Quality FLAC