Recording of the Week Excited by another batch of re-issues?
Typically we see something like 400 new releases a month but how many of these are actually new recordings and how many are really re-issues?
Well, if you look at the major labels the figures are quite disheartening - over the last three months EMI have released 7 new recordings compared to 52 re-issues; for Decca it is 3 against 33, and DG is 11 against 43. However, look at the independent labels and you can quickly see that this is where the majority of important work is being done - in that same three-month time span Chandos have managed 17 new releases, Hyperion 15 and Harmonia Mundi 12.
So, are all these re-issues just ways of generating more money for the major labels or should we, as independently minded lovers of great classical music recordings, be genuinely excited by them?
Well, I would say a bit of both. Some re-issues simply function to lower the price of a classic, but old, great recording. Mravinsky’s 1960 Tchaikovsky Symphonies 4-6, finally re-issued last year, are a classic example of this. DG rightly decided that, after 46 years at full price, it was about time they lowered the price. Some labels, knowing that the 50 year copyright law means they are about to lose the rights to the recording, are pressured into re-releasing at a lower price - EMI’s Callas re-issues over the past few years being a classic example of this.
Recently there has been a growing trend to put out larger and larger boxes at cheaper and cheaper prices. Some of these sets are fantastic - the Brilliant Classics series of Russian Archive recordings is fascinating and contains both legendary recordings and some almost unknown gems. Others in my view have questionable value - earlier this year Warner Classics decided to put together a box set of their Andras Schiff Concerto and Chamber Music Recordings, this despite re-issuing the whole lot individually on their mid-price Elatus label just a couple a years ago.
The Brilliant Classics Russian Archive sets work because they are legendary performers in music history and many of the recordings were not previously available in the West. Schiff is an outstanding artist and will undoubtedly become a legend, but he is not yet, and so a box set which mixes Bartok Piano Concertos with Mozart Piano Trios and a whole disc of almost unknown Hungarian 20th Century composer Sándor Veress is in my view a fairly unnecessary addition to the catalogue.
We’ve just started a special offer on Brilliant Classics. There are some absolute bargains within so it’s well worth a look.