Unsettling news hit classical CD fans last week. For years the entire music industry has seen CD sales gradually trail off as music lovers finished replacing their LPs and interest shifted to instant-gratification music downloads. Through all this, classical CD sales have always held up better than most other genres’. But last year, it was classical’s turn at the biggest sales hit — 26 percent.
This has renewed the clamor from the doom-and-gloom pundits who’ve been predicting classical recording’s imminent demise for years.
They’re still wrong. With download sales growing, classical recording is far from dead.
What has happened, though, is that many of the major labels, saddled with debt from buying each other, no longer are willing to allow their classical divisions to run at a loss. Recording projects are fewer. Increasingly, producers are shying away from risky repertoire and high-cost artists.
Many major orchestras, particularly in the US, have found themselves without recording contracts. A few have foregone recording entirely. Others have forged relationships with small, independent record labels. Still others have taken matters into their own hands, recording their own concerts. They offer the recordings as (usually paid) downloads on their websites, and as CDs in their gift shops and by mail.
With so many large media companies leaving orchestras in the lurch, it was especially gratifying when one of the biggest, Deutsche Grammophon, released The Cleveland Orchestra’s Beethoven Ninth in 2007. Now, DG’s microphones are back in Severance Hall. They recorded this weekend’s concerts (on 8 and 10 January 2009), with soprano Measha Brueggergosman singing Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, for a Wagner disc (yes, I said disc) to be released in the autumn of 2010. Robert Woods, the sharp ears behind Telarc Records, is part of the production team.
The Cleveland Orchestra’s agreement with DG will give us four recordings in all. For the second release, Pierre Boulez, who has made several fine discs of French repertoire with The Cleveland Orchestra over the years, will conduct Ravel’s G major concerto and left-hand concerto. The pianist will be Pierre-Laurent Aimard. These recordings, also live, will be made at next season’s concerts.
Repertoire for the remaining two recordings hasn’t yet been announced.
All four recordings are expected to be released both as CDs and as Internet downloads.