Herbert von Karajan is rebranded

Herbert von Karajan is rebranded


norman lebrecht

March 21, 2014

The late conductor chose his partners with care. The only major label for which he never recorded was Warner. But Warner now owns the former EMI Classics and is shamelessly rebranding Herbie as it own. Look.karajan rebranded


  • Maestro says:

    Warner has totally SCREWED-UP in the marketing of the EMI catalogue and artists. Warner does NOT have a great reputation in the field of classical music, and would have better served the industry by maintaining the EMI nameplate for ALL EMI releases and artists. Re-branding recordings of the Berlin Philharmonic and other ensembles directed by HvK, or other key artists–such as Sir Simon Rattle–is a TRAVESTY and a DISGRACE.

    • G Ell says:

      Agree. The graphics for the HvK rebranding project are ghastly. But let’s be grateful for the remasterings because IMHO HvK’s recordings for EMI surpass most of those he made for DGG both in quality of delivery and impetus, if not in sound. No need to rehash the ultraclinical sound from those early CDs and lathering of ultragloss that he applied to the Berlin strings.

    • RC says:

      Though arguably you may be correct they had no choice in the matter. The EMI classics label did not go to them along with the catalog. They could have used Parlophone Classics for example but not the classic EMI label which is now dead. A shame.

    • Anon says:

      @Maestro, it is not Warner’s marketing people who have screwed up, but Warner’s legal and negotiation team when they bought EMI Classics. Warner do not own the rights to the EMI Classics name and logo, so they have no choice but to re-brand. As Christophe notes below, not unlike Decca / Phillips.

      Even if this wasn’t the case, I can’t see why a small change of logo should provoke such an impassioned reaction. Who cares about the logo on the box? It’s still Herbie!

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Does it matter so much whether it says “EMI” or “Warner” on the cover?

  • Anon says:

    I suspect they have no choice, since they don’t own the EMI logo.

  • christophe huss says:

    Just a technical question. Are you sure that it is “shamelessly” or do they not have the legal right to use the EMI name and logo, as Universal for Philips, who “shamelessly” rebrands Colin Davis as a Decca Artist ?

  • I have always considered it dishonest of a record company to claim 96k/24-bit remastering, when the sound on the actual CDs offered for sale has of necessity (since this is the only standard for audio CDs) been downgraded to 44.1k/16-bit — arguably less good than decent analog LPs. Obviously Warner is too cheap to put out hi-res sound on SACD, and probably hoping to resell the same remasterings in higher resolution later and at greater cost to the public.

    • Anon says:

      @ David, why dishonest? If it is clear it is a 24/96 remastering, or a new 24/96 analog-digital transfer, where’s the problem? I don’t see anyone making claims for the delivery format, only the production techniques. I think it fair to suggest that a new 24/96 transfer and 24/96 mastering will sound better when down sampled to 16/44k1 for CD than a 16/44k1 transfer and mastering, so what terminology would you use to describe the 24/96 remastering process instead?

      I rather doubt Warner is “too cheap to issue on SACD” as such. The problem is more that the public at large are too cheap to buy a product which is more expensive to make (and therefore sell); therefore the public get what they have shown to be willing to pay for. I have no doubt that if Warner could detect a public appetite for a higher-quality, higher-cost delivery format they would be selling these recordings that way.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      It’s not really “dishonest” because transferring an analog master tape and remastering it at a higher resolution than the intended release format does make sense because in the digital mastering process, resolution can get lost, depending on what steps are taken. And most people don’t hear the difference anyway, including most people who think they do, including many people with highly trained ears, as blind listening tests have shown time and time again. 44.1/16 is still better than what LPs can offer in every respect, frequency response, distortion, s/n ratio, channel separation, dynamic range.

      • Anonymus says:

        Yeah, but CD doesn’t have the harmonic distortion the LP has, and people like that distortion!!! 😉 They call it “warmth”.

    • Charles D. Martin says:

      Good as SACD is, it is disappointing that Warner is not looking into Audio Blu-Ray (using Pure Audio or simpler presentation schemas) for higher-resolution masters.

      And here’s the dirty little secret the majors don’t want you to know: those discs, particularly the dual-layer discs, can acommodate a hueueueuge amount of music. Jochum’s quadraphonic Beethoven cycle can be made to fit on a single Audio Blu-Ray — at 24bit/96kHz — and without the need for lossless compaction!

      • Anonymus says:

        Call me old fashioned, but I like to have the physical format in sizable portions. All Beethoven Symphonies on one little lightweight plastic disk? Nah, I still look in awe at my Karajan Beethoven Cycle LP Box or my Wagner opera LP boxes. Now that’s production value I can feel… 😉

        But seriously, it’s a problem for the labels.

  • sixtus says:

    I note the Warner poster plays up the fact that many of the recordings were taped at EMI’s Abbey Road studios, as if trying to tie them to the studio’s use by the Beatles. The best sound quality Karajan got was not produced at Abbey Road. There were much better venues in London where more concert-hall-like sound could have been obtained. Abbey Road used for symphonic recordings has always sounded, well, like a recording studio — too small and cramped and with insufficient reverberation, especially at low frequencies.

    • At the time, only Kingsway Hall was in use as an alternative by EMI for Karajan’s London recordings. Agreed, a much better sound than No.1 Studio, Abbey Rd, in those days. E.g. Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty ballet suites.

  • Fritz Curzon says:

    seems to me Karayan is the brand- EMI gets its mention and the Warner logo is minute

  • Cambridge says:

    I really don’t understand what you’re beefing about. What on earth is shameless about this, Warner selling discs from a label it owns? The publicity tells us the recordings were made by EMI. That is, of course, unless you consider releasing any Karajan recording a crime. For my money Warner deserves our gratitude for making them available again.

  • David Boxwell says:

    You’d think they’d avoid raising the spectre of “1946” if they were doing a “re-branding” . .

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    This may be a stupid question, but was Warner even around as a classical label in Karajan’s time? Or is it now what used to be RCA? I get totally confused by all those label takeovers and rebrandings.

    Speaking of major labels, I don’t think Karajan ever recorded for Philips either. There is a Falstaff with him from the early 80s on that label, but it was produced for DG and then, I think, handed over for release to Philips because DG had already agreed to make a Falstaff with Giulini in LA. At least that’s what I read somewhere. It doesn’t totally make sense to me because they didn’t exactly mind duplicating repertoire in new releases, especially in that period when they re-recorded everything for CD.

    I don’t think Karajan recorded for CBS either, but then CBS was taken over by Sony and they published his self-produced “legacy” films.

    • Prof Richard Goldberg says:

      The Falstaff is Decca.

      The original label for the Philharmonia Recordings and Karajan was Columbia EMI. It would have been great if Sony had got EMI Classics-it holds the trade mark rights to the Columbia logo. Then we could have got CDS with the original jackets.

      The His Master’s Voice trade mark could have been licensed from HMV. In short, the Warner logo is like putting a Chrysler logo on an Aston Martin.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        The Falstaff is Decca.

        Not originally. It first came out on Philips. You can see the original cover here with the original digital recording logo in the top left corner which they only used for a few years in the early 80s


        and then replaced with this style


        Later, the exact same recording did come out on DG, too


        Now it is on Decca


        Confusing – but it’s all the same recording – not to be confused with his earlier Falstaff which was recorded for EMI and which ha always been on EMI.

        Well, except now it is on Warner…

        I don’t think the car comparison makes sense. Chrysler and Aston Martin make very different cars, and yes, EMI, DG, Decca, Philips etc did have somewhat distinct styles in how they produced their recordings and how they sounded – but none of that changes when a recording that was on Philips now comes out on Decca, or an EMI recording now comes out on Warner. The logo on the cover is different, but the recording on the disc is the exact same one.

        • Prof Richard Goldberg says:

          Agreed re Falstaff. But logo is important.

          It’s not the quality of the recording I’m talking about-it’s the prestige of the recording label, and it’s association with the artist. Warner has never had the prestige of EMI, Columbia EMI, HMV, RCA Victor or DG and I am afraid to say that it never will. It actually killed off Erato and only now relaunched it to replace the Virgin Classics label. It has never had any association with the other labels historically. Had Sony got EMI Classics they would have been able to use the trade marks of Columbia on all Columbia EMI recordings (sold back to CBS by EMI) and produced Original Jackets on Karajan’s and Klemperer’s Philharmonia recordings. This would be a quality purchase for the collector.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Do you buy recordings for the quality of what comes out of your system when you put on the CD, or for the covers and logos on the cover?

        • Prof Richard Goldberg says:

          You completely miss the point. Of course the sound quality is important, but most collectors like the original artwork, notes and original trade marks. It adds to the quality and authenticity of the product. The EMI Great Recordings of the Century were produced as exceptional collectors items, as well as being sonically of a high standard. Sony lead the field in this with the original jackets

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            I understand the power of nostalgia although I am not a “hardcore” collector myself – generally it doesn’t matter to me that much, I am more interested in the recordings than the original artwork, although in some cases, I have also bought older releases of recordings just for the nostalgic value, e.g. I recently got the original CD release of Beethoven 5 with Giulini/LAPO on DG because that was the very first CD I ever bought back then, I gave it away at some point and replaced it with a later release, but when I stumbled across the original release recently, it brought back memories, so I bought it again…

            But anyway, if that is important to you, wouldn’t it make more sense to collect the original EMI releases? Most of them are still available, many are still in stock at various retailers, and often, it is not too hard to find used copies in good condition either. Doesn’t it make them more collectible if they are real EMI releases? Wouldn’t a new Warner release with original artwork and EMI logo be a “fake” in some ways?

    • Anonymus says:

      Wasn’t Warner only entering the stage of classical music with the acquisition of TELDEC Classics? When was that? In the 80s?

      TELDEC on the other hand was originally a post war label in the British sector, a joint venture of the German TELefunken and the British DECca.

      TELDEC invented the DMM Mastering process for LPs if I remember correctly.

    • Anon says:

      A label may have no objection to duplicating repertoire with different performances, but often a performer might object to someone else recording the same repertoire on the same label too soon. If that’s a performer the label wants to keep happy, things may be moved.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        True – but the conductor whose Falstaff was released on DG over Karajan’s was Giulini, not a conductor one would think would have insisted on that kind of preferred treatment – he made a number of recordings for DG, basically all of them of very standard repertoire, and most of them made at around the same time the same repertoire was also released with different conductors. And Karajan wasn’t exactly one of DG’s minor artists, one who could easily be pushed aside. Plus there are lots of examples of the same repertoire being recorded by several artists for and released by DG around the same time. So it remains puzzling why they moved Karajan’s Flastaff over to Philips.

  • Prof Richard Goldberg says:

    The problem also lies with the forced spit as a consequence of EU competition law of EMI Classics from Universal. Had Universal not been forced to hive off EMI Classics, the trade mark (which belonged to EMI Group plc), could have continued to have been used on the CDs. The split has contributed to the mess, as the split left the EMI trade marks with Universal.