Classical Music Labels

By Daniel McAdam.

Music labels - that is, the "label" of the company producing a given recording - have a greater or lesser significance, depending upon the genre of music one is interested in. 

In popular music, the importance of a given label is not great.  I recall that my vinyl Rolling Stones albums were on the London label, and that the Beatles were on Capitol, at least until they started their own label, Apple.  But labels did not influence my purchasing decisions.  Warner Brothers did, for a time, offer "loss leader" sampler albums, which were quite fun, so I did have an awareness of labels; but one may be aware of a great many things of little or no consequence.

With respect to classical music labels, the situation is different.  Labels can sometimes bear a direct relationship to price, or sound quality, or both.  There are "budget" labels - Naxos comes to mind - but there are also less formalized categories, like "big name" labels, independent labels, and so forth.

This all came to mind last week, when I found myself in the classical music section of Tower Records on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.  It was a pleasure to shop in a brick-and-mortar store with a good-sized classical selection (something not found in mall stores), but my time was limited, and there wasn't anything I was particularly searching for.  Where to begin?

The frugal nature of my Puritan New England forefathers guided my steps toward the budget section. The selections there were interesting enough, most being products of budget import labels.  I purchased two CD's, both released by Apex, which is a label (sub-label?) of Warner Classics UK.  The wide range in my tastes at that moment is amply illustrated by the fact that one CD was unquestionably classical (Beethoven's Piano Sonatas), while the other was somewhat daringly modern (Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, coupled with Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta). 

Were the two CD's, at $7.99 each, worthwhile buys?  Should you buy Apex CD's?  I've decided to start reviewing labels as time permits.  (And for those labels not yet reviewed, I've provided links to their websites when they could be found.) Hopefully, this information will help you in your purchasing decisions. 






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