Late greats

Late greats


norman lebrecht

February 20, 2009

Valerie Solti has posted a fond tribute to James Lock on the Gramophone website.

And an aide of Luciano Pavarotti has been in touch to say how much he loved Jimmy and Christopher Raeburn, staying in touch almost till the day he died. 

If any readers want to share personal memories of Jimmy and Christopher, from within the Decca studio or one of those famously indiscreet lunches, do use the comment space below as a message board.

If your life was changed by one of their records, likewise let us know.

I don’t expect Universal Music Group to commemorate their legacy.



a  friend in London, who was at the Royal Festival Hall last night, reports :-

Zubin Mehta dedicated last night’s performance of Bruckner 9 with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra to Christopher.
Mehta spoke movingly about him to the audience.


  • Valerio Tura says:

    Very sad, indeed! I had the privilege of working rather close to both Jimmy Lock and Christopher Raeburn, mostly during the Riccardo Chailly years at Teatro Comunale di Bologna, when I was in charge of all media productions (those were the days when Decca recorded quite a lot in Bologna), but also later. I do care wonderful memories of the two – rather different, though complementary – personalities of Jimmy and Christopher. For example I still remember the “baby-like” smiling eyes of Christopher when someday, together with some Decca and Teatro Comunale colleagues we presented him upon his birthday some beautiful photographs of the autograph pages of W. A. Mozart’s admission test to the Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna, which are still kept in a library there. I think that just having the chance to look at them at work it was for me a great lesson, from which I think that I have learned a lot about HOW to listen to music, about how to deal with acoustic standards, about how to take care of all details, in other words about how to aim for perfection in music rendition…! The classical music industry owes both of them a lot! SIT TERRA LEVIS. Valerio Tura

  • Brendan Carroll says:

    Christopher’s passing is an inestimable loss.
    He was a dear friend to me for over 30 years – a friendship that went back to the days in which I first got to know George Korngold, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s younger son, who introduced us during the recording sessions for his father’s Cello Concerto, to which Christopher had come as a guest, at the old Kingsway Hall.
    He was a witty, gracious and immensely knowledgeable man who had a seemingly endless fund of stories and anecodotes about the great musicians with whom he had worked. He sensed my nervousness as a very young man and was immensely kind and generous to me. I recall how deferential George & Ken Wilkinson (producer & engineer on that occasion) were to Christopher as we sat in the recording booth listening to the playbacks.
    Through the years, I got to know Christopher well and our paths crossed often. To receive an invitation to lunch from Christopher meant a marvellous afternoon in the presence of a great raconteur, invariably at his beloved Garrick Club, of which he was a long time member.
    Over the years, I came to value his advice and every meeting with him was memorable and rewarding.
    I was therefore so happy that last November, I was finally able to repay the years of friendship and present Christopher in a special evening all about his fascinating life at the Austrian Cultural Forum in Kensington, where for almost 2 hours, he kept a packed house in thrall, many there being former colleagues from Decca.
    I had no idea he was so mortally ill and certainly he gave no indication, such was the charm and vigour of his conversation and reminiscence.
    With his death, a golden era has indeed passed and his many friends and the music business are all the poorer for it.

  • Alexandra Raeburn says:

    I am Alexandra, Christopher’s eldest daughter. On behalf of my family I would like to thank all of you for your kind comments and marvellous anecdotes.
    Christopher’s funeral will take place on Friday 6 march, not Monday as stated elsewhere.

  • JAMES LOCK (1939-2009)
    Ex-Decca Chief-Engineer James Lock has unexpectedly died last February 11th, in his London house. Jimmy Lock, just for his close friends as he liked to say, started to work at Decca in 1962 and soon became the most prolific in-house sound engineer, following in the steps of his mentor Kenneth Wilkinson, with whom he did go along recording so many historic performances when both were already considered the two top men inside Decca studios. He joined forces with Sir Georg Solti and Lucciano Pavarotti on most of their discs, leaving us a unique legacy of reference recordings till this day. He was, at the same time, the man Herbert Von Karajan would ask for in two trademark opera albuns he did for Decca, La Bohème and Madama Butterfly, in 1972 and 1974.
    Winner of 2 Grammy Awards (one for Mahler 9th Symphony with Solti), James Lock’s recordings always presented us with a lush and very pristine sound, atmospheric but, at the same time, with pin point instruments. In this way, he managed to get what every classical music sound engineer may spent a all life look after without getting it: a recording capable of capturing the venue’s acoustic without losing the focus of the orchestra different sections. With Jimmy’s setup, the music lover was in the maestro’s place without the in-your-face effect one often gets in today’s recordings. Also, in his piano or violin concertos recordings he was unique: no one could put the soloist in the stereo phantom center like him. Long time before the 5.1, his stereo recordings sounded as if there was already one center channel. Neither the violin or the piano sounded anymore panned both extreme left and extreme right. Or bigger than the orchestra. They had the right proportions and the right phantom image (Joshua Bell’s Brahms concerto comes to mind).
    Early in 1990, he did, probably, the first realistic and good taste 5.1 classical music recording of all history: the Three Tenors concert in Caracalla. Listening to it today, it’s hard to believe that it was Jimmy’s first 5.1 recording and one of the first in the market: he smoothly panned the 3 tenors voices in the 3 front channels according to their stage positions, using the center channel in the same way as the left and right channels – something the music industry have not learned yet today (listen to the poor front stage’s SACD recordings they are doing today and you’ll understand what I am saying).
    After leaving Decca in 1997, as a consequence of the amazing job he did in Caracalla, James Lock started a career as sound consultor for live amplified classical music performances and helped many outside venues to present symphonic music to the masses. In 2005, he was helping the portuguese Gulbenkian Orchestra in their summer outdoor performances when he got to know, by accident, my Lisbon flagship audiophile and home-theatre private room. Here he found the right acoustic and monitoring setup for quality stereo and 5.1 mixings. After stating he never had heard his recordings sounding so amazing good like in this place, he persuaded me into buying a sound editor and mixing desk so he could come down here and get back on tracks. In June 2007, he joined the studio staff of O Ganho do Som studio as resident engineer and consultor, helping us in film soundtracks recordings. In the present, he was supporting us with his knowledge in the making of O Ganho do Som Film Orchestra, with 80 of the top local musicians. He was also in the final run in the planning of a long dreamed project: mixing two operas from his friend and composer Gian Carlo Menotti, “The Media” and “The Telephone”. Last summer, he had start to write “The Other Side of the Microphone”, an autobiography about his Decca years and the human experience of recording great musicians. This was going to be the next John Culshaw’s “Recording Wagner Tetralogy The Ring”!
    He was the best classical music engineer of all times, but I will remember him as a very educated, nice and warm human being. He liked to wear looking good and had a childish funny sense of humor. He went off for his last setup but leaved us a hard to follow recording legacy and professional modesty. Recordings will never sound the same.
    Cremation will take place next Friday, 27 February, at 14.00 at Golders Green Crematorium, Hoop Lane, London NW11. The funeral company is Leverton & Sons (Tel. +44 (0)208 455 4992
    João Ganho