New, improved, updated: Worst classical covers of 2013

New, improved, updated: Worst classical covers of 2013


norman lebrecht

October 17, 2013

It’s time to start assembling a long list. Five new releases rush to the top of the pile. Please add your own.

1 Ms Wang shot to attention with a skirt that barely covered her essentials. Now she’s wearing a fin de siècle lampshade. What  gives?

yuja wang

2 What’s that man doing with an upside-down umbrella on a misty pile of rocks Playing a concerto, is he?


3 British works? All we see is a fat sheep waiting for a shave. Missing something, are we?


4 Ah, the irresistible glamour of an airport floor



5 This is supposed to be 1789: spot the anachronisms. Did anyone in 1789 wear two shirt buttons open. Or buy a folded newspaper?


The space below is for your nominations…


Here they come….

6 What’s that towering in Josh Bell’s lap? Answers, please, to Sony Music.


joshua bell


7 Anna meets the airbrush

anna netrebko airbrush


8 That flute just blew and blew




  • Donald Wright says:

    Apparently Miss Wang’s record company is attempting to make merchandise of her aforementioned “essentials”–which may or may not include the ability to make music–while there is still some wattage to be found there.

  • Vince says:

    Every time I see that Yuja Wang cover I’m reminded of the Joker from The Dark Knight.

  • Those will take some beating!

  • sdReader says:

    The Tiffany design is pretty. But the destruction of the “Deutsche Grammophon” brand is progressing well when the words “concerto” and “piano” are missing and a hash mark (#) is used to denote number.

    Universal Music Group was at one point HQ’d in Santa Monica, but there is a DG HQ now in Berlin, with the parent entity in Paris. Surely more intelligent marketing is possible!

    • When the composers’ names are printed smaller than those of the two overhyped artists, the inclusion of hash marks can’t, sadly, be too surprising.

      The most glamourous DG sleeve of my youth was a soft-focused Matha Argerich playing Gaspard de la Nuit. And there was a piano in the photo.

      I find it very hard to get enthusiastic about the talented catwalk models we’re now expected to consider as heirs to the likes of Furtwängler, Kleiber, Gieseking, Backhaus, Heifetz, Casals and the rest.

      • Donald Wright says:

        As always, I agree completely with your highly literate and informed comments, Theodore M! That Martha Argerich cover is gorgeous, as were several others from her earlier solo career. She was extremely beautiful, and if her then record company was attempting to market her as a sex-bomb, at least it was done tastefully with no need for the garish wardrobe or outré makeup that seems nearly ubiquitous in today’s bumper crop of younger performers. Argerich’s stunning pianism and musicianship sold her recordings, and still does.

        • Thanks, Donald. What’s more, DG’s broad yellow band was there to tell us about the content and took up a good third of the front of the sleeve. Compare that with the example above and see how the priorities have shifted over the years.

    • sdReader, I think you’re absolutely right.

    • Victor Vazella says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with your comment. Deutsche Grammophon, in particular, and Universal Classics in general have become purveyors of dubious ‘product’ and I, like many others, simply don’t trust them anymore. They think that by portraying their artist in a vulgar and tasteless way that they will attract a new and younger consumer. That is a simplistic and false assumption, as my 22 year old daughter, who is a jazz/rock musician, looked at the recent Yuja Wang cover and exclaimed that it was disgusting. Her 26 year old boyfriend, himself a classical musician, looked at it and said, “they think that they are cool, but they are so uncool that it is embarrassing .” I agree and ask DG and Universal to get some brains back into their business, people who know something about the once loyal consumer, people who know about music, about musicians and about marketing to their core audience. What I have seen over the ast eight or ten years is appalling and has, in the past two years become even worse. Please wake up and ask yourselves who are you serving? What has happened to your once loyal consumers?

    • JB Baldwin says:

      I think the omission of _Concerto for Piano No…._ is a calculated marketing ploy. It says, “Yuja is so famous we don’t need to identify what instrument she plays,” and “Anybody who’s anybody knows who and what this is.”

      It’s a subtle way to hype an artist but gives no thought to the morrow. DG are in the business of prosperity, not posterity (of course, they have to stay in business, but I hate the “too cool for school” breezy attempt at relevance).

      • anon says:

        No one has yet mentioned the apparent exoticist intent of this Yuja Wang album cover. That’s perhaps what’s most offensive. “Not only is she young and pretty – she’s ASIAN!!” Look at that eye makeup — is this a 1930s Disney cartoon? It’s awful!

    • Paul Harris says:

      Paul Harris Says:

      The so-called hash mark has been used historically to indicate “number”. Not everything happened last week.

  • At least my disc isn’t in the list 🙂

  • John Hames says:

    I fear this is a bit desperate, Norman! OK, the Yuja Wang one looks like the light coming through my stained-glass front door in the morning, and the British cello one is dullsville, but I don’t see anything actively offensive or unintentionally hilarious. The Pahud/Rivet is quite good, and the vaguely Caspar-David Friedrich Saint-Saens isn’t that bad, is it? You’ll have to work harder to find some that match up to the unspeakable classics from past years!

    • Dave Fox says:

      I find the Chandos cover quite hilarious. To paraphrase Aaron Copland, this cover tells me that “listening to this music is like staring at a sheep for sixty-five minutes”.

  • Yuji Wang is a fine pianist and the less she wears the better, as far as I’m concerned: her arms etc. will be able to move unimpeded.

    • Mathieu says:

      If it wasn’t for climatic reasons, all pianists would be better off playing stark naked. Your arms can’t be really free with those *clothes* on

      • says:

        Precisely what I meant!

        • We saw Yuja Wang up close and in a smallish venue before she became a DG star. I think it was 2006. After the recital we chatted and had some photos taken. She played absolutely great, we felt that she had a great future. She was charming and funny. Now am her greatest fan, both of her playing, her fashions and her discussions on music. I don’t look at the covers.

  • Christophe says:

    And can you not speak about the music, and not the covers???

  • PJ says:

    If these are the worst, then decidedly 2013 was an exceptional year for album covers.

  • Brian says:

    Yuja Wang can be quite a looker but this photo doesn’t really do much for her. I think the infamous airbrushed Netrebko Verdi cover gets my vote as the worst:

  • John Ed Niles says:

    Yes, those covers a tacky and ugly and a bit silly. However, the WORST cover, the tackiest of them all came out several years ago. It was for a recording of the Mozart Requiem. The recording had a white cover. On the cover was a gurney with a dead body, covered by a sheet. The image of the body was from the direction of the feet, so all you saw was the gurney, both feet and a white sheet covering the body. On the right, big toe was a toe-tag. On the toe-tag was: Mozart: Requiem, Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan with the four singers in order. Now THAT was the worst cover I ever saw. And it was a Major Label.

  • Sergio says:

    I agree with Brian. That Netrebko Verdi cover is not great at all. In fact it’s rather creepy. I think it may have been designed by putin

  • José Bergher says:

    It’s difficult to create a worse cover than the one for B. Nilsson’s Salome.

  • Andrew says:

    A lot of fun. Personally, I thought that Decca was being very financially responsibly when they chose to use Julia Lezhneva’s driver’s license photo for the cover of her ALLELUIA disc:

  • David Boxwell says:

    (#3): Ireland, Bax, and Bowen not music redolent of “cowpat”, but “dingleberry.”

  • David Boxwell says:

    (#4): Dudes, don’t let the airline personnel even touch those cases!

  • HK says:

    This Pahud cover is not as bad (ridiculous, really) as his last:ötenKönig-2D.jpg

  • Cicely Woodruff says:

    These are all quite tasteful compared to my all-time favourite – the Deccan Solti Salome!

  • J. Carr says:

    I recently had to go into the New Yorker archives for a piece published in 1963.

    The article was fine, but what really struck me were the advertisements. It is amazing how our sensibilities have changed in 50 years.

    The same is obviously true for album covers……………………

  • Scott Colebank says:

    Who says Salome cannot look like a pirate?

  • sixtus says:

    Surely the Bell Christmas album cover is a reference to Justin Timberlake’s notorious Dick in the Box music video shown on Saturday Night Live during the Christmas season of 2006. If it isn’t, it should have been. After all, the blurb at the link starts out: “On Musical Gifts, Joshua Bell imagines friends coming to his home during the holidays . . .”

    bleeped version:

  • I find nothing offensive or sexually inappropriate about the picture of Yuja Wang in her tiffany lamp shade blouse.

    I’m enjoying everyone’s suggestions concerning the worst cover of the year. So far my favorite is

  • DavisA says:

    I see Ms Wang has joined your hate list. Just for the record, she did not shoot to attention wearing a skirt that barely covered the essentials. She had already caused a sensation with her playing in her first album when she played at Hollywood Bowl in an orange mim-dress.

  • Marguerite Foxon says:

    The Netrebko cover is so ghastly it’s turned me off buying it. She is such a naturally beautiful woman. Why do this? And worse, why did she agree?

  • Una says:

    They’ve just lost the plot! Netrebko looks like an advert for Halloween!

  • idavis says:

    These are all pretty bad. And, since you have Pahud on your list, I thought I’d remind you of one that was even worse from a few years back – and worse than that Joshua Bell cover…

  • jthill says:

    While not one of the worst Lang Lang and Rattle were captured in conversion for this cover.

    Rattle: Lang Lang! Watch out the piano lid is going to come crashing down and crush your hands!

    Loud noise – cannot determine if Rattle tripped lid peg or Lang Lang chord from Bartok or Prokofiev concerto caused lid to crash.

    Lang Lang: Whew! It missed but took half my ring finger. Ouw – Starting to hurt!

    • Donald Wright says:

      On every CD cover and in every publicity shot, Lang Lang seems determined to prove to us that he has expressions, given that there are none in his playing. As far as his recordings go, I’m more concerned that I avoid the content than the cover! No cover could be as shallow and meretricious as his performances.

      • Donald – a few months back I was in Santiago de Chile and saw posters advertising concerts given by £ang £ang and a certain violinist. Tickets to the pianist’s recital were considerably more expensive than those of the string player’s, who also had an accompanist to pay. No big deal, one may think, until you saw who the violinist was: Itzhak Perlman. Some aspects of the musical world are completely arse-backward.

        • Donald Wright says:

          Theodore, unless my eyes deceive me, those ostensible capital Ls in the name of the redoubtable Bang Bang are in fact pound signs. Now that is clever!

          Why, oh why do people flock to hear him? As Martha Argerich–perhaps the world’s most generous musical colleague–once said, in what one suspects was something of an understatement, she didn’t understand what the interest in him was. Nor can I. That he should command more than Perlman is disgraceful.

          • I quite agree. I was shocked when I saw it. Perlman played his first recital the day I flew out of town, so I wasn’t able to get to hear him. He sold out his two nights, though, so all credit to the Chilean concert-going public.

  • Bang Bang says:

    This one should be in the list

    not a CD cover but neverthless noteworthy, should end up on one:

    the message of this soloist: t**s for Chopin, a**e for Schumann.

  • Not Exactly a Photoshop Genius says:

    You should start your own album cover photoshop contest! There are plenty of readers here who would love to invent their DG, Decca, Sony, etc album covers? right?

  • Michael says:

    Sorry for being off topic,as this is not from 2013, but I could not resist…

  • Woz says:

    I met Yuja Wang few days ago at her first solo in San Francisco Symphony, I showed her the artwork I created at her performance. As a SanFranciscan I adore her work and her talent is highly appreciated in California.

  • cabbagejuice says:

    Interesting to note on Lang Lang’s cover the concertos just had the composer and number of work. At least there was a picture of a piano. On music forums the abbreviation PC is used for Piano Concerto but might be mistaken for Personal Computer outside the trade.

    Also interesting is the choice of finger breaking PC’s, almost as though there were a competition “who can play the most difficult piano concertos” among Chinese pianists.

  • Mikko says:

    I laughed out loud at the sheep. Fat and happy, green hills, what could be nicer?

    The Hollywood horror film posters have nothing on Anna N. That cover is seriously creepy.

  • Sixtus says:

    Herbert von Karajan would probably give that Pahud cover a glowing review. Along the lines of:

    • Martin says:

      For administrative correctness, I repeat one of my comments, as it should have been a reply to this one. –> haha, very nice. “on moto”. but this thread is about bad covers, not ones that make me – almost – buy the CD despite Vivali is on it.

  • Martin says:

    Don’t see any problem in 2, 3, 4 and 6.

  • michaela says:

    As far as flutists go, Herbie Mann leaves ’em all in the dust with his shirtless “Push Push” album cover!

  • This is the best comments thread I’ve ever read. It has made me laugh out loud many, many times. Thank you, one and all.

  • Norm says:

    “yay, [she] won.”

  • Martin says:

    haha, very nice. “on moto”. but this thread is about bad covers, not ones that make me – almost – buy the CD despite Vivali is on it.

  • Many of the cover photos with people minimally clothed are made even better by the “Rip Here” sticker on the cover

  • Donald Wright says:

    Do please let us add at least one of the upchuck-inducing covers of the once-promising and erstwhile-classical violinist, David Garrett, to the hall of shame, e.g., this one:

    I have a CD of Garrett doing Beethoven “Spring” Sonata, and some Bach and Mozart, when he was 13 years old. I hadn’t heard of him at that point, but bought the CD because of phenomenal reviews I’d read of it in some classical-music magazine. He was an absolute master at that young age! I was horrified then when I first encountered him again a few years back on some TV program in a “mod” get-up with designer hair playing crap for the entertainment of the uneducated masses, complete with light show. How such a genius could turn into the Liberace of the violin I don’t understand.