Silent deaths at Decca

Silent deaths at Decca


norman lebrecht

February 19, 2009

See LATE EXTRA below

The sad news has just reached me of the deaths, within days of each other, of the last two stalwarts of the Decca golden age – Jimmy Lock, the chief sound engineer, and Christopher Raeburn, the label’s driving-force producer.

Jimmy was in the throes of selling his north London house and moving to work in a Portuguese studio when he was found dead by a visiting estate agent. He had joined the label in 1963 and advanced the famous Decca Sound into digital and beyond. Sir Georg Solti, I seem to recall, had great respect for his ears and great affection for his character.

Christopher joined Decca in 1954 and, as I related here, was conscripted almost immediately into John Culshaw’s Ring project in Vienna, the first studio recording of the Wagner cycle. He could have succeeded Culshaw as head of the label by chose not to compete with the shadowy Ray Minshull. From 1975 he was Decca’s director of opera productions. His greatest discovery was Cecilia Bartoli but he also worked happily over the years with Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Renee Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu and other Decca properties. Unusually for a Decca man, he was notably fond of female company. He stopped taking phone calls early this month, dying discreetly of lung cancer.

Why are you reading of their deaths here? Because no-one at Decca has put out a press release on the passing of these company lions. Decca, as I’ve reported, has been eviscerated by corporate paper-shifters at its Universal owners and no longer functions coherently.

Decca, sad to say, is deader than Jimmy and Chris, whose work will live on. The label has lost its classical core, its educational drive, most of its staff and the last relics of its soul. Hard-copy evidence of the Decca Sound and the Decca style will outlast the label’s bonus-seeking executioners. 


LATE EXTRA: BBC Radio 3 have responded to this blog by invting Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge to reminisce about Raeburn and Lock on In Tune tonight. If you miss the live tx, you can pick it up later on streaming. 


  • William Corke says:

    Very sad to read of Christopher Raeburn’s death.
    I met him only once, a year or so ago, at a concert of chamber music in an out of the way country venue.
    That evening, Chris, Alexander (Sandy) Baillie and I talked and argued for some hours into the night, and it was one of the most stimulating musical discussions I’ve ever had the privilege to be part of.
    Chris had been enormously impressed with Sandy’s playing that evening, and was in the mood to be thoroughly quizzed about the classical music scene from the ‘50s to the present day.
    I was terribly excited myself to be able to talk to someone who had heard Cortot (one of my great heroes) play live, and more the point remembered the concert and could talk interestingly about it.
    Raeburn’s vitality and enthusiasm were really something, and I was hoping to have the chance to meet him again. I have his card (copper-plate script) stashed away somewhere…
    NL to William Corke: he was a lovely man. I just heard from Pavarotti’s flak that Big Lucy loved Chris and Jimmy and stayed in close touch with both til his death.

  • Rainer Mockert says:

    Christopher was for me DECCA. Never forget when he did the first recording of Bartoli in the Konzerthaus or when he helped Karl Böhm to handle the original conductor score of Richard Strauss after the last session for the ELEKTRA soundtrack to the Konzertmeister of the Vienna Philharmonic or when he explained to to Sir George Solti in a break for the Hänsel &Gretel soundtrack why the pitch of the Vienna Philharmonic string section becomes higher after playing some time. I loved his coat done by a jewish tailor somewhere in Poland in the twenties for his father.

  • Tony Faulkner says:

    I have the impression that reports of Decca’s death might be somewhat exaggerated. This week we have been recording longstanding Decca artist Vladimir Ashkenazy for Decca. The microphones we used were the same as Ken Wilkinson or Jimmy Lock would probably have used for Decca. The recording sessions were attended by a member of Decca A&R’s staff, who was in excellent health.
    The deaths of James Lock and Christopher Raeburn are sad losses of real professionals with high uncompromising standards which will be appreciated for many decades to come in the work they leave behind.

  • Stefan Tardy says:

    I am grateful for this article, because being a personal friend of Jimmy for more than 30 years, I found it extremly disturbing, that Decca did not give out any press release in time. I even sent them an email, telling them that their way of going about the death of Jimmy it is a real shame!!
    He was such a wonderful, genereous and warmhearted person, and since I have received the sad news, there is not a single day, where I don´t have to think about him.
    Jimmy, thanks for your wonderful friendship!!

  • Yi-Peng Li says:

    I know I’m only in my mid-twenties and am writing from Singapore, but even if I may have only known the name of Christopher Raeburn by glancing at the credits on some of my Decca CDs, one of the Decca recordings he produced will always stand out for me. Raeburn did a marvellous job on the Dohnanyi recordings of Mendelssohn symphonies in Vienna. I treasure the CD that contains the Scottish and Italian symphonies, plus the Hebrides overture. It’s due to Christopher Raeburn’s production of the recording that I’ve had the chance to hear Mendelssohn done as it should, light, crisp and characterful. I owe it to Raeburn for producing these recordings and leaving an impression on me, so that I really treasure these recordings to this day and hope that there will be a similar CD from Gardiner and his period-instrument orchestra…