Russia sells off its recorded heritage for next to nothing

Russia sells off its recorded heritage for next to nothing


norman lebrecht

February 21, 2020

The Russian state has sold its Melodiya archives in a non-contested auction.

The sale price was 329.6 million rubles, which is a little over $5 million. But the two buildings that house the Melodiya recordings – at Karamyshevskaya embankment, 44, and Tverskaya Boulevard, 24/1 –  are valued at 300-350 million.

So the recordings were essentially given away for free with the real estate.

The buyer is a company called ‘Formaks’, which appears to be a deal broker, founded in 2015. The owners are named Mikhail Sukontsev and Dmitry Smirnov.

Tragic to see a century of sound being given away for less than a song, in a deal that has no public scrutiny.



  • yujafan says:

    Without a doubt, there are some great recordings in those buildings. Such a shame that once dominant and interesting Russian / Eastern European labels are now traded away with little apparent care for their recorded legacy. Whatever became of Electrecord in Romania, for example? I went to their Bucharest offices and bought copies of their entire catalogue before they became all but impossible to find. One of the few that appears to be thriving is Supraphon, but then the Czechs took a proactive commercially minded approach years ago.

  • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

    Regardless of the new owner and the transfer cost, are the archives going to be available for people to hear ?

    • Robert Roy says:

      I’ve always hoped that a rumoured recording of David Oistrakh playing the Elgar violin concerto might surface one day.

      • If Rostropovich’s Elgar Cello Concerto is anything to go by, I have doubts about the artistic/musical value of a Russian version of another great Elgar concerto. A bit like hearing Tennyson recited in perfectly-metered, but heavily-Russian-accented English.

      • David Blake says:

        No sign yet, though his son’s account is available.

      • David K. Nelson says:

        If all you knew of Soviet recording technology were the many-times-removed tape dupes issued by Monitor, Vox, Pickwick, Urania, Hall of Fame, and other such LP labels (some seemingly nameless), you would assume the Soviets knew or cared squat about recorded sound. Actual imports, licensed recordings issued by EMI or Columbia, and the authorized reissues of the CD era, showed that those assumptions were mistaken, although Melodiya’s engineers and producers certain had their own notions about sound. Ditto for Soviet radio broadcast engineers – some amazingly good sound stretching back into the 1940s. It was a revelation.

        And they knew how to preserve tapes and shellacs, which is something not all American labels or broadcasters did or knew how to do. Whether the Soviets did this or not I do not know, but Werner X. Uehlinger of hathut recordings told me that the reason even the oldest German radio broadcast originals sounded so good on his CDs is that the Germans used paper between each loop of tape on a reel, so that tape never touched tape. No flaking and no bleed through. Some issues of old Soviet radio broadcasts sound about that good.

        The other revelation once more of the Melodiya catalog became available was the quality of the musicians who were NOT the big names we knew from pirate labels or other such sources.

        As for David Oistrakh, based on his Hindemith, Szymanowski, Bartók, Franck, Brahms, and Grieg, I am confident he had the versatility to give a wonderful Elgar Concerto. I’d love to hear it if it exists.

  • Gregor Tassie says:

    The offices at Karamyshevskaya 44 belongs to Moscow City Council. I visited the offices because it is very difficult to buy their CDs in Moscow, and dont do mailorder outwith Russia. Its next to a hospital and very difficult to find on the outskirts of the city. Its a very sad end to what was a great company but they hardly ever advertised their new releases in the West.

  • Karl says:

    Hopefully that means someone will sell me the recordings for next to nothing. But somehow I doubt it. I already have a lot of Russian recordings, many by Sveltlanov and the old USSR Symphony.

  • Leonardo says:

    Aren’t the Russians proud of their artistic legacy?

  • Calvin says:

    It is a supreme fallacy to assume that either the procedural aspects of this deal or the sale price suggest that the seller and buyer consider the archive to have only marginal value. In fact, in the Russian kleptocracy the precise opposite is true. This is the Russian textbook formula for how oligarchs are made.

    The silver lining to this corrupt state of affairs is that there is now every reason to believe that the buyers will commercially exploit the acquired assets.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Wold it have mattered if it had been sold for a fortune? What matters surely is whether the recordings are going to be available at a reasonable price.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    The company might be gone, but that massive library of wonderful performances still exists.
    Perhaps an agreement with a major label (Warner Classics?) might be arranged with the new owners, such as RCA/BMG had with Melodiya a couple of decades ago, to reissue many of those great recordings.
    I mention Warner because they have such a great reissue program. But bravo to any label which steps up to the plate!
    Let’s all hope for the best….

  • Kolb Slaw says:

    Dmitry Smirnov is a composer. Or is he?