News: Rare private recordings to be released on new label, Music Preserved LIVE

Operatic gems from the collection of Lord Harewood among the historic recordings to be released for the first time on new label

14 March 2009

Jon VickersAn exciting new development for anyone interested in historical performances comes in the form of Music Preserved LIVE. The new label will be launched and released exclusively on Chandos's The Classical Shop from mid-April and will see never before released gems from a variety sources introduced into the catalogue.

Music Preserved is a registered charity that has devolved from the work of Jon Tolansky and Basil (Nick) Tchaikov in establishing the Music Performance Research Centre in the 1980s. It now holds an archive of several thousand items. The bulk of those are private or off-air recordings of live classical music performances from the last 80 years. Nearly all the great names, the 'historic artists', in every genre are represented, many in considerable depth, with repertoire they never recorded commercially. The most significant collection is that donated by the Earl of Harewood, former editor of Kobbé, but several other connoisseurs and collectors, among them recording engineers, have passed to Music Preserved their complete collections of broadcast live recordings.

The website, www.musicpreserved.org.uk, has details of the extent of the archive. Most of the original tapes are stored in the Borthwick Library at the University of York, where they are curated by Dr. Jenny Doctor (previously archivist at the Britten-Pears Library and Trinity College of Music).

This archive is now being opened up with the launch of a record label, Music Preserved LIVE. Focusing on the section of the archive that is in the public domain (performances more than 50 years old) Music Preserved LIVE will select some of the most attention-grabbing performances and release them for digital download, via www.theclassicalshop.net, which is one of the best-known and most respected digital marketplaces for classical music. The releases will retail at budget price and, in accordance with the label's charitable foundation, all profits will go towards making more of the archive available.

Two initial batches of five releases (largely drawn from Lord Harewood's donation) will be followed by two per month. The first batch capitalises on the especial depth of Music Preserved's collection in the operatic field, but subsequent months will contain one operatic release and one non-operatic - symphonic, choral or instrumental. The source materials of these performances are all reel-to-reel tapes or rare acetate discs. These have been remastered by Roger Beardsley, who has a worldwide reputation in the field, to the highest possible standard, with the emphasis kept on the feel of the live performance: these are emphatically not manicured studio artefacts. They are living, involving experiences.

The result should be a consistent series of superb historical releases of more-than-historical interest. The exciting nature of the initial tranche of releases should be the catalyst for considerable interest and publicity both within the historical market, and hopefully across the wider world of the classical music media.

Among the first batch of releases are several treats for opera lovers, in particular. Sena Jurinac stars opposite Charles Craig in a Madama Butterfly recorded at Covent Garden in 1959 while an all-star Royal Opera performance from 1958 of Handel's Samson, conducted by Raymond Leppard with a cast that includes Jon Vickers, Joan Carlyle and a young Joan Sutherland, will be a welcome release in the composer's anniversary year.

Carlo Maria Giulini conducts an all Italian cast (including Gian Giacomo Guelfi and Italo Tajo) Verdi's Attila from the 1951 Venice Festival, Rafael Kubelik leads BBC forces in an English language Jenufa starring the much-overlooked Gré Brouwenstijn while the legendary Igor Markevitch conducts Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel from Covent Garden in 1954.

British music is also handsomely represented, most intriguinlgy, perhaps, with the first performance of Britten's Gloriana, with Joan Cross and Peter Pears. John Pritchard conducted the Covent Garden forces in what the Earl of Harewood described as 'one of the great disasters of operatic history'; the recording therefore represents a rare piece of history captured for posterity. There are also programmes of symphonic works by Butterworth and Vaughan Williams, conducted by Sir John Barbirolli, and an intriguing double-bill of Imogen Holst's arrangement of Blow's Venus and Adonis and her father's Savitri (Charles Mackerras conducting the English Opera Group). The Amadeus Quartet feature on a disc playing Britten's Second String Quartet and are joined by the composer for the coupling, Mozart's K.493 Piano Quartet, while tenor Richard Lewis sings Tippett's Boyhood's End and The Heart's Assurance with Janacek's Diary of a Man who Disappeared (in an English version by Bernard Keefe).

By Hugo Shirley