ArkivMusic Mines the Greats

ArkivMusic, one of the Web's leading sources for classical music recordings, has struck a deal that enables them to release on their own reissue label, ArkivCD, out-of-print titles from the extensive catalogues of EMI Classics, Virgin Classics, and Angel Records. The reissues are available "on demand," copied from actual out-of-print CD releases (not master tapes) without compression or enhancement, and are often accompanied by copies of the original liner notes.

Thomas Evered, General Manager and Senior Vice President of EMI Classics/Angel Records, heads the conglomerate's classical marketing and sales division. He told Stereophile that ArkivMusic has initially been given the rights to 419 out-of-print EMI titles. "Our catalogue is so vast," says Evered, "no one has actually gone in and examined all of it. Some of these titles could even be Great Performances."

No kidding. Examine ArkivMusic's list of EMI release highlights and certain titles fairly leap off the screen, screaming "Yes!": Stephen Kovacevich playing Schubert's late Piano Sonata in A, D.959 (a John Atkinson favorite); Sir Thomas Beecham conducting Delius; Beverly Sills and Julius Rudel collaborating on Welcome to Vienna, with vocal selections by Léhar and Korngold in which Sills's heart-breaking, floated high tones are to die for; Mariss Jansons conducting Sibelius's Symphony 1; the future Sir Simon Rattle's first recording of Mahler's Symphony 10; and the great Montserrat Caballé giving Puccini arias the diva treatment. Other delights include Frederica von Stade singing Rodgers and Hart, Thomas Hampson doing Cole Porter, Barbara Hendricks enchanting with Strauss, a Rossini Centennial Birthday Gala at Avery Fisher Hall, the irreplaceable Elly Ameling gracing Bach with radiant light, Ruth Ann Swenson in some positively golden singing, a Turnage collection from Rattle, and recordings from the Chung Trio, Olaf Bär, Roger Norrington, and Hausmusik.

"I've been with EMI Classics since 1987," says Evered. "Seeing a lot of these long-absent titles is like walking down Memory Lane. We've considered reissuing some of them, but we have so much in the pipeline already. With physical sales sluggish in this economy, and the number of retailers that carry deep catalogue diminished in the last two years, we're very happy to find a way to make them available."

Erik Feidner, President and CEO of ArkivMusic, is equally happy. This is his third deal with a major label, the other two being Universal Classics and Sony/BMG, that has allowed ArkivMusic to release "production-on-demand" CDs from out-of-print catalogues. With 100 titles added each week, the list of on-demand ArkivCDs could very well have topped 3000 by the time you read this.

"We issue CDs based on a number of criteria," says Feidner. "We link up to the playlists of our classical-radio-station marketing partners, so that their websites provide links to the CDs they play that are available on ArkivMusic. Since 50% of the titles classical radio stations play are currently out of print, we tend to reissue those titles out of the thousands that are available to us for reissue. Our production-on-demand ArkivCDs thus give us a way to satisfy listeners who want to buy what they've heard on the air."

Feidner emphasizes that, hard as it may be to believe, major labels don't necessarily keep comprehensive lists of all of their own titles that are currently out of print. Determining what's been deleted, what's desirable, what's been reissued in remastered form, and what may be scheduled for imminent reissue by the labels themselves, is a big job.

"The formulas labels use to determine what titles to keep in print have to do with finances and minimal numbers in the warehouse," says Feidner. "Their criteria are not qualitative decisions; they are financial. If a label has three or four recordings of Schubert's Ninth Symphony and they delete one or two, they don't necessarily delete the poor ones and keep the good ones. They delete the versions that didn't make the numbers. How many boxes of Henze symphonies can you sell in the US in a given year? Eventually, someone at the label hits Delete."

Hence, ArkivCDs include such invaluable titles as Hans Werner Henze conducting his own symphonies, and Scandinavian-music specialist Herbert Blomstedt conducting the San Francisco Symphony in Nielsen, Sibelius, and Grieg. Because ArkivMusic stores the CDs it is reissuing as single copies as well as digitally, without consuming major warehouse space and incurring overhead costs, it can release many more slower-moving titles than major labels can afford to store.

"The reissue program was one of my prime motivations for starting the company five years ago," Feidner says. "Major labels have a huge, enormous wealth of catalogue that they delete. There are entire artist discographies that we're bringing back. As a former French horn player, I was dismayed that virtually every solo recording by Hermann Baumann, one of the greatest living horn players, was out of print. You could only find little snippets on compilations; eg, on Mozart in the Morning. Now, you can find nine of Baumann's solo recordings available as ArkivCDs, with more to come. This is what's so important about what we're doing."