We have always wondered how producers at the classical labels come to settle on their archival releases. For example, what back-catalogue whiz at Deutsche Grammophon decided that Ferenc Fricsay needed not just one but two massive boxes (divided largely into orchestral and vocal music)? Likewise, who at Sony decided that Max Goberman’s influential but, frankly, sort of obscure Haydn recordings needed to be released? We are not complaining, of course, but sometimes it would be nice to know why the records got released.
When a smaller label puts out an archival release—take Marston’s downright necessary set of Fernando De Lucia’s early recordings, for example—we automatically assume that there must be some intrinsic merit to the release. Sometimes the merit is merely sonic (e.g., Music & Arts’ recent remaster of Furtwängler’s 1942 9th) and sometimes the merit is artistic. But because small labels—we assume—have limited resources, there has to be a good reason for them to spend the money working the release up for issue. This is true, also, for blues and jazz releases. Big labels, on the other hand, do not appear to have such financial constraints. In many cases, the masters are in the can and the artwork can be worked up on short notice.
Also, the big labels are much less personal. One can almost get to know the personalities running boutique labels. We have mentioned Ward Marston, but there are others, such as Mark Obert-Thorn, who, either through interesting liner notes or by participating in online discussion boards, become not only record executives but trusted critics. This is not the case, universally, at the big labels. Some names—such as Andreas Meyer—come up repeatedly, but in other cases booklets simply do not provide any meaningful background on the men and women putting the releases together.
Perhaps the big labels would do well to allow their producers to show a little more personality. Obviously, budgets are tight all over the record business, but it seems to us that brief notes from record producers, especially on releases not likely to sell more than a few thousand (or few hundred or few dozen, in some cases) copies, explaining their motivations for putting together the releases would do well. At the very least, it might encourage the casual listener to search out some aspect of the recordings previously overlooked. (On the other hand, it might confirm the cynical listener’s worst fears about the industry.)