Brand loyalty is an elusive thing in the record industry; and especially in the field of reissues, with multiple versions of standard works and many star performers reappearing on different labels.
EMI and Warner are the latest to try to attract consumer fidelity with distinctive new lines.
EMI’s Encore has a clear design identity, featuring a kitschy version of the company’s old ‘recording angel’ symbol; the fold-out booklets have short notes on composers, works and artists, in English only, and a lot of pictures, but no texts or translations.
Warner’s Apex series, based on material from Teldec, Erato and Finlandia, consists mostly of recordings made in the CD era, and so reissued in their original form.
There is a refreshing absence of catch-all compilations, and an equally refreshing enthusiasm for unusual couplings. For example, a BEETHOVEN disc from Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic combines the Fifth Symphony and the complete Egmont incidental music, with the soprano Sylvia McNair in appealing form (8573-89078-2).
A DVORÁK disc from the same performers adds to a dramatic live New World Symphony three Slavonic Dances, including the little-known but charming No. 6 (8573-89085-2).
In Russian repertoire, Elisabeth Leonskaia’s accounts of the two SHOSTAKOVICH piano concertos with Hugh Wolff and the St Paul Chamber Orchestra, by turns crisp and tender, are supplemented by his fascinating Second Sonata (8573-89092-2).
And a fine MUSSORGSKY disc from Jukka-Pekka Saraste and the Toronto Symphony includes Pictures at an Exhibition in a mixture of the orchestrations of Funtek and Gorchakov, both more authentically Russian-sounding than the familiar Ravel version (8573-88432-2).
Particularly welcome at this price level are some of Teldec’s Nineties ‘British Line’ series by Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, outstandingly well recorded: HOLST’s Planets coupled with the bleak Egdon Heath (8573-89087-2); programmes of familiar BRITTEN (8573-89082-2) and DELIUS (8573-89084-2); and, best of all, a TIPPETT disc with the BBC Symphony Chorus joining exuberantly in the last of the Midsummer Marriage Ritual Dances (8573-89098-2).
But where the Apex series is most welcome is in its exploration of repertoire way off the beaten track: GOSSEC’s 1760 Requiem, an important influence on the Requiems of both Mozart and Berlioz (8573-89234-2); EISLER songs, delivered with controlled passion by Fischer-Dieskau and Aribert Reimann (8573-89086-2); DALLAPICCOLA vocal and choral cycles, beautifully performed under Hans Zender and James Wood (8573-89230-2).
There’s even some real contemporary music, with Pierre Boulez’s pioneering recording of BERIO’s Sinfonia (8573-89226-2), and another fine Boulez disc, of tough but rewarding works by ELLIOTT CARTER (8573-89227-2).
If Apex generates enough brand loyalty to encourage curious listeners down these unfamiliar paths, it will be a good thing both for the company and for its customers.