To a younger generation he is the man who shepherded Cecilia Bartoli into the limelight, while for a previous generation he was the man who brought András Schiff to Decca. His production credits adorn such staples of the catalogue as the legendary Sutherland/Pavarotti/Caballé Turandot, Karajan’s Madama Butterfly with Freni and Pavarotti, and the original Three Tenors Concert from Rome. He is Christopher Raeburn and 2008 marks his 50th year as a producer for Decca and his 80th birthday.
He joined Decca in 1957 and was part of the team for some of the label’s earliest stereo opera productions. Soon he was part of the now legendary Decca team (with John Culshaw and Erik Smith) who produced the first studio recording of Wagner’s Ring conducted by Sir Georg Solti. In 1968 he was appointed Decca’s manager of opera productions and oversaw many of Solti’s opera sets. With all his opera recordings Raeburn was a stickler for detail, overseeing the casting right down to the smallest part (no surprise to find Kiri Te Kanawa tucked away in the second Sutherland Rigoletto or that his Flower Maidens in the Solti Parsifal include Lucia Popp, Te Kanawa, Anne Howells and Gillian Knight). He also believes passionately that singers are best heard in their native language. Away from opera he was a valued and discreet studio partner for Vladimir Ashkenazy, whose cycles of the complete piano concertos of Beethoven and Mozart he produced. He was a regular presence at Decca’s Vienna Philharmonic sessions and such is the regard in which he is held by the orchestra that he was presented with the Franz Schalk Medaille (an honour usually reserved for conductors: Raeburn takes his place alongside Karl Böhm and Josef Krips).
In 1986 Raeburn brought a young Italian mezzo-soprano to Decca: her name was Cecilia Bartoli and in the years since, under his gentle tutelage and guidance, she has become one of the undisputed stars of classical music. Their collaboration reaches a new level this autumn with the release of Bartoli’s tribute to Maria Malibran.
Speak to any of the artists who have worked with Christopher Raeburn in the studio and they will talk of his tact and quietly creative approach. He never forces ideas or views on them but creates an atmosphere in which their own musical personalities can flourish; but he will never shirk from a hard decision or conceal a concern should one arise. Sit down with a Raeburn-produced recording and you feel that you are alone with the performers, the “production” a conduit to your enjoyment, not an end in itself. For 50 years he has enriched the classical record catalogue and in making this Special Achievement Award we salute one of the great, but often unsung, heroes of classical music, a man of unswerving honesty, integrity and expertise.