Label of the Year

Gramophone salutes a great independent

Hyperion styles itself “Britain’s brightest record label”, a claim that few of its numerous followers would question. But a few years ago a couple of events threatened to dim the light that glowed from this gem of an independent label: the death of its founder, Ted Perry, and a court case that cost Hyperion a huge amount of money and temporarily impeded the label’s ability to record and release the recordings it wanted. A man of vision and immense good taste, Ted was a tough act to follow but his son Simon has proved that running a successful record company requires both nature and nurture. In 2008 Hyperion glows as brightly as it did under Ted’s inspired leadership.

So why have we made this award this year? Label of the Year is an acknowledgement of particular skill over the different disciplines required to create a successful company. Taste is one that arguably crowns those requirements and Hyperion has consistently shown immaculate taste in its choice of artists, its matching of artist and repertoire and its high production-values both in the studio and in the presentation of the disc. In other words, Hyperion discs not only sound great but they look great, too – few companies have shown such skill in matching image to music.

Of the many discs that made it to the short list this year, there was a sizeable representation from the Hyperion catalogue – a perfect barometer of what the label has achieved over the past 12 months. The range is remarkable, from the exquisite sounds of a single viola da gamba played by Susanne Heinrich on her enchanting album “Mr Abel’s Fine Airs” to the symphonic mountain range that is the Beethoven symphonies – and how typical that Hyperion should release one of the most engaging and satisfying cycles for many years, Sir Charles Mackerras’s from his Edinburgh concerts. In between, there were wonderful treasures from the Renaissance – music by Gombert and de Monte – viola concertos by Rubbra and Walton as well as the Tippett Piano Concerto, an astoundingly virtuoso piano work, Alkan’s solo Concerto from Hyperion’s keyboard tiger Marc-André Hamelin and, as well as the winning disc of songs by Barber, there was also an equally superb disc of Charles Ives from Gerald Finley. And let’s not forget the disc from Polyphony enshrining a performance of Poulenc’s Gloria that beautifully balances the apparently conflicting elements of his unique musical language.

It would be easy to say that Hyperion is not interested in “star” performers, but a glance through the artist roster reveals stars aplenty – provided you class outstanding musicians whose service is first and foremost to the music as stars. By any reckoning Angela Hewitt, Steven Isserlis, Hamelin, Finley and the Takács Quartet, to name just a few, are major players on the international scene. What Hyperion resists is outsize egos – personality there goes into the music-making, not into maintaining the image. And that’s why when listening to a Hyperion recording it’s always the music that, rightly, occupies centre stage. 

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