Berlin Philharmonic launch own label

Martin Cullingford Fri 25th April 2014

Label to launch with complete Schumann symphony cycle from Rattle

Berlin Philharmonic launches its label with a complete Schumann symphony set conducted by Sir Simon Rattle

Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings: the future shape of orchestral recording? 

The Berlin Philharmonic has announced the launch of its own record label: Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings.

No stranger to making its concerts available itself, since 2008 the BPO has led the way in how an orchestra can present its own performances through its Digital Concert Hall. The same in-house recording technology will now be used to capture concerts for the new label, which will begin with a Schumann symphony cycle, recorded live in February and November last year under the baton of chief conductor Sir Simon Rattle.

The BPO is far from the first orchestra to launch an own label – the London Symphony Orchestra’s LSO Live label has been around for more than a decade, while the likes of the San Francisco Symphony and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra have issued notably successful symphonic series on their own imprints. 

But for perhaps the world’s most influential orchestra to take such a step is firm confirmation of the new shape of today’s recording landscape – a world in which ensembles increasingly control their output based on what they want to record, and when, rather than on how successful such a project might be in commercial terms, something Rattle himself alluded to in his comments about the new initiative: ‘The Schumann Symphonies have never been considered one of the sure-fire big sellers of all music, but for us in the Berliner Philharmoniker, this music is closer to our hearts than almost any other…So we said, let’s share our interpretations with others.’

The BPO’s century-long links with Deutsche Grammophon, which embraced some of classical recording’s highest profile and highest-selling partnerships, not least with Herbert von Karajan, were last year celebrated with a weighty box-set. More recently, Rattle’s exclusive contract with EMI ensured a fruitful and equally prominent collaboration with that label. 

But Rattle’s contract with EMI (now Warner Classics) has expired and not been renewed. And according to the BPO, while the orchestra may still find itself recording with other labels (for example when working with artists who have exclusive label contracts), it expects to look after its recordings of symphonic repertoire entirely itself. 

The Schumann set - which features the earlier, 1841 edition of the Fourth Symphony - will be released on May 23, priced at €49.90 – but for that the collector gets traditional CD format recordings of the works, plus high-resolution video and audio on a Blu-ray disc, packaged in a linen-bound hard-cover box. Those wanting even higher resolution sound will be given a code to download a version in up to 192 kHz/24-bit.

Future releases on the label include Bach’s St John Passion, conducted by Simon Rattle and staged by Peter Sellars (a follow up to the same partnership's recent St Matthew Passion DVD - a Gramophone DVD of the month), and a complete cycle of Schubert’s symphonies conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

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