Weird goings-on at Warner Classics

Weird goings-on at Warner Classics


norman lebrecht

February 11, 2014

This is the time of year when labels start trotting out their big guns. Sony have a Jonas Kaufmann Winterreise coming up, DG have a Villazon.

And Warner, home to the former EMI? Nothing.

The first two releases of the year are are French pianist Bertrand Chamayou  and a French cellist Edgar Moreau, neither known at all outside France. Well bienvenu and all that, but where’s the boeuf?

Worse, now that Warner/EMI a&r is run out of Paris, what’s happening is that old EMI contracts are being honoured but not Warner artists who were signed to the former London office, which is being wound down.

We hear that the upcoming Franck sonata release by Rachel Kolly d’Alba, tied to an April Wigmore Hall recital, has been cancelled and that she and other Warner UK artists have been told to take their wares elsewhere. Surely, that can’t be so. It would be so uncivilised.

Even for Warner, which once shut down its entire classical operation on the strength of an overnight fax from Hollywood…


rachel kolly


  • Andrew R. Barnard says:

    So does this mean a superstar like Simon Rattle will now be looking for a new label? Same with Antonio Pappano and Ian Bostridge, to list the names that first come to mind?

  • Over the years, I became resigned to EMI’s inaccurate quotation of critics’ writings about the company’s recordings (such as the supposed ‘quotations’ on the back inlays of their “Great Recordings of the Century” series, which sometimes featured paraphrases of critics’ original written comments). Nevertheless, that could conceivably be dismissed as just sloppy, unintentional inaccuracy. However it concerns me that Warner’s marketing strategy now extends to stating anything necessary to sell their products.

    Specifically, how does Warner justify the comments on the back on their recent set of “Arrau Rarities”? We are told that it includes “a Brahms first concerto, which, late in life, Arrau confessed was his own preferred version amongst his recordings”. Yet there is an entire chapter in Joseph Horovitz’s “Conversations with Arrau”, entitled “Listening to Brahms”, in which the pianist tells us that he utterly repudiated that 1947 recording, and considered it so poor that he couldn’t tolerate listening to it until the end.

    Some of the comments in the press releases by Warner for their classical products (both new releases and reissues) are even more jejune than EMI’s. At least EMI had the good sense to recognise that it lacked staff with a knowledge of the back catalogue, so it hired one of EMI’s ex-employees from the 1970s (with nearly thirty years’ experience of the company) to work out the contents of compilations. But does anyone at Warner know anything about classical music?

  • rc says:

    There are very few pre merger Warner Classics artists that were signed out of the Warner UK office. I believe that this very column often referred to that label as “nonexistent” and as a “joke”. So what’s the big deal about ti’s A&R functionality being closed down?

    • Harold C. says:

      I agree! Warner Classics was nothing but a joke. It will hopefully change now that a worldwide recognized team replace the former one. Alain Lanceron has had great A&R successes since he took the leading of Virgin Classics a long time ago, and he should be as successfull for his new job.

      One more point: Bertrand Chamayou is a really fantastic pianist; he’s French, yes that’s right… so what?

  • Ian Delmonico says:

    Well, the new french entity must not have known that she won the ICMA best concerto performance for French Impressions, and that American Serenade and Passion Ysaÿe have been critical successes, or that she is an international ambassador for Handicap International. Her global profile is in Warner/EMI best interests, not only her recordings. Though this next CD is to be chamber music – as she announces on social medias – it is essential French chamber music and one that Mr. French, if he were a good French record executive, should not ignore. My opinion.

  • Pederzoli-Ventura Catherine says:

    la fusion des groupes sous la houlette de m.Lanceron ne doit pas enlever la qualité des partenaires ;les concerts et enregistrements de Rachel doivent continuer ils sont d’une haute qualité musicale ; les critiques et les succés remportés en sont la preuve!pourquoi the prochain cd de musique de chambre ne devrait-il pas voir le jour! vous commettez une grave erreur ! ceci n’est pas que mon opinion

  • Babi Banerjee says:

    Shame that so many important artists are without a label. What is the typical sales volume for a popular classical recording these day? 5,000? 10,000, 50,000 units? What are the economics of recorded classical music? I note a lot of artists now release on their own labels and a lot of the affected artists are well enough known that should should be possible. I am sure Sir Rattle will be picked up as will certain others. Shake up in the industry continues more than 10 years after Mr Lebrecht predicted it in his various books. Still, there is more recorded classical music available than most of us will ever need and smaller labels continue to offer up interesting new titles and artists.

  • Patrice Fort says:

    Plus rien n’échappe donc désormais à la logique financière.

    Depuis que les gestionnaires ont supplanté les amoureux de la musique, et que les calculettes ont remplacé les écouteurs, les grandes maisons de disques font des choix dictés par la seule rentabilité supposée de leur production et non par l’intérêt artistique qu’elle représente. Ainsi, En novembre dernier, à la Chaux de fonds, Rachel Koly et Spektral Quartet ont enregistré le concerto de Chausson. Et selon la règle à calcul utilisée par Warner, cette album ne devrait pas sortir….. Sauf si nous sommes suffisamment nombreux pour protester contre cette forme nouvelle de censure, qui n’est rien d’autre en fait qu’une illustration de la dictature imposée par les marchés financiers. En musique et ailleurs.

  • HB says:

    There’s a lengthy article in one of last month’s New Yorker magazines (January 20th issue, by Connie Black) that makes it quite clear what the trouble at Warner is, in a profile of the current owner, a Russian-born oil billionaire. Not only does current ‘management’ know nothing of classical music – they know, and care, nothing about music at all it seems. It’s quite clear that they are about to lose their most known performers to Universal or Sony. The article is well worth a read.

    • Anon says:

      HB – why would you expect the owner to know anything about classical music? The classical music part of this label is tiny compared to the rest of it. That’s like saying you expect the owners of the Daily Telegraph to know all the ins and out of the darts report at the bottom of page 76.

      Alain Lanceron as the de facto head of classics now for Warner / Erato certainly knows a lot about classical music and performers. He established an excellent roster under the Virgin Classics brand, and I don’t see many of those performers moving ship.