Decca's dead, who's next?

Decca's dead, who's next?


norman lebrecht

February 05, 2009

The story I broke in my Evening Standard column yesterday that the Decca record label is about to be shut down has kept me in phone calls and emails all day.

Producers phoned from London, Paris and Vienna to question the motives of Bogdan Roscic, the not-terribly-active Decca chief who jumped to a non-job in Sony the moment he heard his label was for the scrapheap. A Universal insider called to suggest that Chris Roberts, president of classical and jazz, may himself be heading for termination.

And the production team behind Julia Fischer’s new album protested that, while they have no idea what it takes to create a Decca sound they are, at Polyhymnia, the last of the Philips studio team. Sic transit gloria mundi – or, there goes another one. And just in case you have forgotten, it is all predicted here.

One of the day’s most interesting comments came from Rainer Mockert who, after 20 years in feature films, became involved in producing classical music DVDs.

Here, in part, is what Rainer says about the record bosses:

I was shocked at the level of some people in the top management of the former important labels. I recognised that these people think and act only in short term profit, based on a few artists who are very good but not good enough on a long term.  It reminded me of discussions with brokers on Wall Street, when I produced the only feature of Peter Sellars during a  small recession in the 1990s. Their only interest was how to secure their BMW’s or second/third apartments, by handling other people’s money. The black humor line from this time I never forget: Your money is not lost it only belongs to somebody else. This is true again today and has reached the classic music world.

I am not worried about classic music and what is happening right now  is probably refreshing and renewing the business. The big record companies totally forgot to support talent, they only invested in shooting stars who are forgotten in a few

I am not worried about the violinist from Munich you are talking about because she is not only very good she seems also very secure about herself and what is important for her as an performer and artist.

You might ask, why I am very positive about classic music. Since I am back in this world I saw during the last 18 months some brilliant stagings of operas, which are attracting younger audiences. I left the music world after I produced the Mozart/DaPonte/Sellars cycle and Peter’s GIULIO CESARE in the early 90s because everybody started to copy him like 10 years earlier Chereau ( I was a young line producer on this RING at UNITEL). Peter was for sure also influenced by Jonathan Miller’s RIGOLETTO at the ENO, but he worked out his own way.

I started 14 months ago to produce live recordings for dvd and tv of operas which were never done before or very seldom or very different to existing ones. We are just finishing the postproduction of the Weimar RING. Not a staging like most of the other 10 RING’s I saw since the Chereau RING, which very often looked like Cirque du Soleil productions.

Check Weimar


  • rolf says:

    Decca and Philips are now history… Time for a virtual museum, next to nice memories like “Nixa” or “Concert hall”…
    Well it already existed:
    Blocked for ip addresses from the USA (of course!), but Europeans
    can have fun with it…
    It’s a collaboration of different European (radio) libraries.
    At the the moment there are more then 800 classical Lp’s from the
    Dutch public radio which you can download for free.
    There are some real rare gem’s in that
    collection, like the Max Rostal Beethoven sonata’s ($200 at Ebay!)
    never issued on cd:
    Note… At the moment, the “whole side” wave files on top are Raw unedited files. People mistake them for “the declicked and normalized” files. So please scroll down and you the the edited (and better sounding) files.
    It’s so nice to see and hear these orange Decca LXT’s again…
    Have fun!

  • Chris Grounds says:

    Norman Lebrecht mentions the success Decca had with the CD of the Three Tenors Concert. I have long believed that to be the beginning of the downward slide of the classical recording industry. I think that Domingo, Pavarotti and Carreras have a lot to answer for, riding on the coat-tails of that format to repeat the same content over and over again ad nauseam; selling their musical souls for financial gain, and as a result, persuading the general population that it was being given generous doses of operatic culture. Nothing could be further from the truth. A direct result was the emergence of all the “classical” singers who can’t sing unless they have a microphone in front of them: Bocelli, Brightman, Church, Watson, Potts, Jenkins etc. etc., fed to the public as a monotonous diet of sickly pablum. Those of us who know how to sing reeled in amazement at the transparency of it all. Kenneth Wilkinson, John Culshaw, Ray Minshull – just three of all those wonderful technical people from the Decca organisation at its peak – it’s sad to think that all their efforts have ended up like this. Chris Roberts – who is he?

  • In case Rolf doesn’t get around to commenting on this post again, here’s what he wrote today in a classical music forum, based on what he’s learned:

  • Dennis says:

    Perhaps I shouldn’t mention this, since it may alert someone to a hole in the system (if indeed US-based IP addresses were meant to have been blocked), but I’m from the US, and I have no problem downloading from EuropaArchive. I had never heard of the site until your post, but I tried it anyway and it works for me (and I’m not using any IP-masking, proxies, or other anonymizing devices either). Great stuff too!

  • Stephen Donaldson says:

    Someone has asked who Chris Roberts is.
    He is the villain of this piece. He is the top man at Universal Jazz and Classics Worldwide that Mr. Lebrecht ,for one reason or another, won’t come out and name directly. Actually there is also a co villain named Mark Wilkinson,the top man at Universal “Classics and Jazz” UK.
    Several years ago these two, mistakenly thinking that according to their own ill conceived, misguided concept that catering to the British public’s low sense of taste was the only way for them to show “profits” to their bosses single handedly started the ball rolling towards the demise of the recorded classical music industry.They didn’t do much to help the pop industry with this attitude either.
    The day that Roberts and Wilkinson are frog marched out of the Universal organization is the day that Universal may again regain the opportunity to experience some healthy sales from real music if it isn’t too late already.
    Once the bean counters at Universal finally tally up the overall cost of creating and promoting the Roberts/Wilkinson crossover monstrosities ,including the many,many commercial failures that they have experienced in this area,versus the proportionally small amount of actual sales of these crossover products worldwide is the day when we may all start to happily see the back of these two.
    Unfortunately it will definitely be too late for Decca.The remaining few artists of Decca are being moved over to DG.
    It’s also not looking so good at DG either. We must take note that the Sting/Dowland horror and the Bryn Terfel/Keating,et al mangling of British folk music that Mr. Lebrecht has mentioned are the exclusive work of DG,not Decca. However, at the back of both of these projects and others like it Mark Wilkinson of Universal Classics and Jazz UK rears his head as well.
    So much for the old guard.
    The future is most definitely artist led and independent. It is an exciting time for all except the Roberts’ and Wilkinson’s of the commercial music world. Good riddance.
    NL to Stephen Donaldson: I do name the guilty parties in my journalism, and in my book on the fall of the record industry. I don’t name them too often because I don’t want to run the risk of turning them into celebrities.

  • Yi-Peng Li says:

    I could sense that all classical labels were going to suffer the same fate some day, and something told me that the demise of Decca was slowly but surely coming.
    Like many classical music fans, I shall miss the superbly-engineered Decca recordings. I never had the chance to listen to many recordings from their heyday, but I especially enjoyed the recordings that were made in Kingsway Hall. I was especially fond of the D’Oyly Carte Gilbert & Sullivan operetta recordings and also of the Argo/Decca recordings of King’s College Choir. Alongside the Solti recordings I have, these recordings struck me as very well-engineered, atmospheric and clear.
    Yet please could you clarify with me what you mean when you say that Chris Roberts may be heading for termination? Does this sentence in your post mean that he intends to axe the Decca label, or that he wants to axe it before he is ousted from Universal Classics?
    NL to Yip-Peng Li: There may be some clues in my next posting.