Label of the Year

Channel Classics

A tribute by Gramophone's Editor and Publisher Martin Cullingford:

In the 25 years since Channel Classics was founded by its devoted Managing Director Jared Sacks, the recording landscape has changed radically. Where once majors reigned supreme and indies carved a niche in terms of repertoire, artists or market, now the distinction between the two, so far as collectors are concerned, is not so clear-cut. The most discerning among the indies – and this year’s winner is certainly one – nurture a hand-picked roster of brilliant artists, just as majors have always done, giving them the support to explore the repertoire they most excel in, and allowing them to take risks. Reaping the rewards of this kind of approach are, fundamentally, the listeners.

Foremost stars among those on Channel Classics’ roster include British violinist Rachel Podger and Hungarian conductor Iván Fischer. Podger’s every disc reveals an artist who effortlessly combines intelligent attention to detail, virtuosic brilliance and a thrilling joy in music-making. This year saw her recording of Vivaldi’s L’estro armonico shortlisted in the Baroque Instrumental category, having already claimed Recording of the Month in April 2015; in his review, Lindsay Kemp wrote: ‘There is probably no more inspirational musician working today.’

Fischer, meanwhile, has steadily built his Budapest Festival Orchestra into one of today’s most impressive ensembles, regularly releasing recordings which stand proudly in the company of orchestras of much older vintage and fame. His Mahler Ninth was an Editor’s Choice in our June issue, and a closing remark by critic David Gutman – ‘The Channel Classics issue (with surround-sound option) is in a very special class, a sonic dazzler’ – gets us to the heart of one of the label’s greatest strengths: Sacks’s audiophile commitment to sound quality, and to exploiting the possibilities of new and improved recording formats to lend the most vivid listening experience he can to his carefully prepared, painstakingly recorded releases.

To Podger and Fischer can be added a host of less- well-known artists – Rosanne Philippens and the Ragazze Quartet are two such who have fared well in Gramophone – while a completely unexpected and delightful disc of works for trumpet and trombone called ‘Tintomara’ (an Editor’s Choice in June) showed off Channel Classics at its imaginative best. All in all, it’s been a very fine year to crown an impressive quarter-century for this year’s Gramophone Label of the Year.

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