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Naxos Classical I: A Snapshot of the Changing the Face of Classical Music Marketing

By Published: April 18, 2003

Stopping short of declaring the groundbreaking Naxos Jazz label dead, let's for a moment turn our attention to the subsidiary that made the award-winning label famous to begin with, the Classical Music section

In 1997 Naxos International, the budget classical music label inaugurated its Jazz subsidiary with the release of six diverse recordings . During the intervening six years, the label released 65 critically well-received discs, all which have been reviewed within these pages. Now, it appears the Naxos Jazz Label is dormant. While retaining its place on the Naxos web site, its content has no changed in over a year and appears on permanent hiatus. The label has started the Naxos Jazz Legends sub-label, which specializes in original period transcriptions by the originators of jazz but that is a matter warranting its own article.

Stopping short of declaring the groundbreaking Naxos Jazz label dead, let's for a moment turn our attention to the subsidiary that made the award-winning label famous to begin with, the Classical Music section (specifically, as the label now has several subsidiaries and multiple distributorships). For perspective of where Naxos classical stands, the Naxos set of imprints currently numbers 13. Briefly, these imprints are:

  • Naxos Classical- This is the imprint that began it with the release of The Best of Naroque Music and now numbers in the thousands of releases. This section has expanded into a successful opera section as well as several different series, including "American Music and 18th Century Classics."

  • Naxos Historical- Made up of radio broadcasts and studio recordings that have been remastered and provide the best account of past performance and directing practices by very well known musicians.

  • Naxos World- the Naxos World imprint is dedicated to disseminating music off of the beaten Western Tradition path, focusing on divers musical heritages, modern popular music from other countries, and obscure musical traditions not often studied commercially.

  • Marco Polo- Marco Polo can be considered the full-priced counterpart of Naxos classical. Originally inaugurated to record little known compositions by well-know composers, the label has expanded into providing complete sets of music, for instance of Johann and Josef Strauss.

  • Jazz Legends- Jazz Legends is the Jazz equivalent of Naxos Historical except concentration on Jazz. Many are original releases of radio transcriptions as well as studio recordings, the label represents everyone from Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith to harry James and Stan Kenton.

  • Nostalgia- Naxos Nostalgia provides and impressive line-up of artists from the world of popular entertainment from the early part of the twentieth century. Following the lead of Naxos Historical, Naxos Nostalgia opens the door the popular music of the twentieth century.

  • Audio Books- Not musical at all, Naxos offers the most complete library of literary classics narrated and recorded for release on compact disc. Among the titles are Boswell's Life of Johnson and Cleland's Fanny Hill.

  • Naxos DVD- an audio-video tour of Europe seen through the lens of the music From Back to Strauss to Rachmaninov.

  • Naxos DVD Audio? Naxos concert audio video testaments.

  • Naxos Jazz- After releasing 60 plus recordings of all manner of Jazz, this imprint went to sleep just prior to releasing the second recording of the very well received Lenni-Kalle Tiapale Trio. Let's hope this is not the last we hear from this label.

  • Naxos Hoerbuecher- Naxos Books in German.

  • Amadis- Naxos Classical's budget subsidiary (a budget label's budget label).

  • White Cloud- Naxos' foray into New Age and Space Music.


    Last year, 2002, Naxos Records celebrated its 15th Anniversary. In those early days of the label, Klaus Heymann, CEO of Naxos Records, was interested in two things: (1) building a large catalog of a diverse selection of "Classical" music for (2) a reasonable price. In an interview in the Wall Street Journal, Heymann stated, "Our Business model is simple?You record things people want to buy. And you produce it, market it, distribute it, and sell it, all at a cost that lets you make a profit."

    Mr. Heymann, European educated (Frankfurt University, The Sorbonne, King?s College) avoids big-named artists and orchestra, the majority of whom are under contract with the major labels. Instead, he opts for orchestras of a more regional than international reputation such as the National Symphony Orchestra of ireland, the Queensland Orchestra, and the exquisite period-instrument group, The Scholars Baroque Ensemble. The artists receive a flat-fee for their performances as opposed to royalties, instead, these artists can take advantage of the exposure they receive from the distribution Naxos provides them both in notoriety and music. This leads to these performers attaining worldwide credibility that can ultimately parlay into further funding or their artistic endeavors.

    This is all well a good, but what about repertoire? When founding the label in 1987, Heymann concentrated first on budget releases of the standard repertoire. Gradually, the label began to devote its attention to more obscure composers. One can look at it like the label first took care of documenting Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler and then turned their collective attention to the contemporaries of these giants. Thus, in addition to Bach, the label addresses his family (CPE Bach, etc.) and contemporaries like Deitrich Buxtahude. Mozart's colleague Muzio Clementi, with whom WM Mozart had a friendly competition, is well represented.

    The present discussion focuses on some of the most recent Naxos Classical releases, a set that illustrates well the depth and breadth of the Naxos vision.


    Gyori Ligeti- Etudes Books I & II, Idil Biret, Piano (8555777). There is no pianist on the Naxos roster better to tackle Ligeti?s prickly Etudes than Idil Biret. She has already burned her way through the Chopin catalog and even provided Naxos a best seller (and an unlikely one at that) with her recital of Pierre Boulez's Piano Sonatas. Ms. Biret's extremely personal reading of these modern classics make them provocative, if not demanding, listening.

    Franz Liszt- Complete Piano Music Volume 19: Piano Transcriptions of Beethoven?s Symphonies Nos. 4 & 6 (Pastoral) (8557170). Naxos? series of Liszt?s Complete Piano Music was begun just as Leslie Howard was finishing his for Hyperion Records. The Naxos series finds itself in the middle of Liszt's piano transcriptions of Beethoven?s Nine Symphonies. While there are notable sets of these pieces recorded, none are as unified and consistent as Konstantin Scherbakov?s readings so far. Scherbakov?s 4th and 6th are light, sensitive and full of color.

    Muzio Clementi- Early Piano Sonatas, Susan Alexander-Max, Fortepiano (8555808). Clementi is not new to the Naxos catalog. Several other Clementi piano collections have previously been produced (8550452 and 8553500, the former being particularly fine). Here Susan Alexander-Max performs Clementi on the precursor to the Hammerklavier, the fortepiano, whose sound gives the music an authentic flavor.

    Domenico Scarlatti- Complete Keyboard Sonatas, Volume 5, Benjamin Frith (8554792). Five discs into a 20-plus disc set of Domenico Scarlatti?s Keyboard Sonatas. Only one complete recording, on harpsichord, current is available. Vladimir Horowitz helped the cause of Scarlatti on piano with his celebrated Scarlatti recordings. Here Benjamin Frith adds talent to this multi-talented reading of the Scarlatti canon.

    Gerald Finzi- Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice and other choral works, Choir of St. John's College, Christopher Robinson, Conductor (855792). Naxos, more than any current label is championing the music of the multifaceted Englishman Gerald Finzi. Here are a reading of Finzi?s post-world War II choral works by the Choir of St. John?s College whose majesty recalls earlier English choral masters Purcell and Blow.

    Jules Massenet- Werther, Orchestre National de Lille, Jean-Claude Casadesus, Conductor (8660072-73). After waltzing through the basic opera repertoire, the label begins at the edges and works in with a performance of Massenet's Werther, the story of a melancholy boy whose fictional suicide almost single-handedly gives birth to the 19th Century Romantic Movement. The performance and conducting are uniformly fine with excellent performances by the cast and principals.

    Arvo Part- Passio, Tonus Peregrinus, Antony Pitts, Conductor (8555860). The addition of Part's Passio is the current star in the crown of this progressive label. This piece based on John's account of the Passion has only been recorded twice before. Antony Pitts consults the famous Estonian composer on the finer points of silence for this recording. Excellent in every way.


    This is just an average month of releases from this progressive and daring label. The releases are well priced for anyone to easily acquire and the recording sonics are superb beyond belief. While Naxos Jazz sleeps, let us celebrate Naxos Classical.

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