Tue, Jul 03, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Book review: The Story of Naxos

Cheap impressions by little known artists have helped make Naxos a powerhouse in the market for classical music recordings

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

Other Naxos stars now include the Japanese violinist Takako Nishizaki, Heymann’s wife, and the Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko, whose on-going cycle of Shostakovich symphonies is already winning awards.

A few big names have come to Naxos over the years almost by chance. Leonard Slatkin, for instance, had long wanted to record William Bolcom’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, but had never been able to manage it. Then a deal came in sight involving Naxos and the University of Michigan, where Balcom taught. The result was a three-CD set that won four GRAMMY Awards for Naxos, its first ones for a classical product (a CD of Tibetan chant had won one two years earlier).

Naxos entered the world of audio books in 1994 and now has over 700 titles under its belt, including the whole of War and Peace on 51 CDs, and all the Sherlock Holmes stories and books in a 60-CD boxed set. The latter are read by David Timson (who also read an abridged version of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past on 39 CDs, re-translating the final book himself). Tolstoy’s masterpiece is read by Neville Jason; it took him 25 days. All can be sampled and downloaded at www.naxosaudiobooks.com. It’s possibly Naxos’s supreme achievement.

Finally, Heymann tells an amusing story about how Naxos actually got started. He already had the full-price label Marco Polo, famous for making the first recording of Havergal Brian’s “Gothic” Symphony, requiring two orchestras and two choruses, and lasting 100 minutes (now on the Naxos label). Then one day a businessman from South Korea who’d asked him to supply 50 digital CD recordings for sale door-to-door cancelled. What was Heymann, who’d already commissioned the recordings and received the masters, to do? The only answer he could come up with was to sell them cheap on a new label, and thus it was that Naxos was born. It was named after the Greek island on which Ariadne was marooned in Strauss’s famous opera. Almost all the other Greek island names had already been copyrighted, so the label’s name, like its initial list, was in essence a matter of chance. But what a very lucky chance it’s proved to be!

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