Archive Classics launches on 3 April

Historical recordings available to listen to and download with broadcasts by Stephen Johnson

3 April 2009

Stephen JohnsonApril 3 is going to be a memorable day for music-lovers and collectors of historical recordings. Award-winning independent radio producers Classic Arts will launch Archive Classics, the world’s first podcast devoted to historical recordings.

The portal for this initiative is Accessing this website, users will be able to listen to and download a gallery of top quality sound files. These musical items will put them in touch with notable performances featuring both big names and lesser known musicians that deserve to be considered for their musical excellence and artistic significance.

The sound archive is the core of this initiative. Nevertheless, an additional feature making Archive Classics a unique project is the presence of a large amount of editorial content. This will give users the possibility to broaden their knowledge of historical performances and to have guidance in the recording universe.

Among the insight features, the most innovative is surely a weekly series of hour-long podcasts with leading broadcaster Stephen Johnson. His first broadcast will correspond precisely with the launch of Archive Classics on 3 April. Acclaimed for his collaboration with BBC Radio 3 (for Discovering Music and for his regular broadcasts), Johnson is celebrated by classical music lovers for his ability to relate critical insights and for his passionate and friendly approach. In this context, Johnson will introduce listeners to important recordings by great artists from the past, mentioning essential anecdotes and useful comments.

Stephen Johnson is both an active collaborator and an enthusiastic supporter of Archive Classics. From the press release we learn that he hopes to spread the fascination for historical recordings: ‘We’re very big on diversity these days and the fact that you can learn so much about yourself from exploring other cultures. But the idea that the past is another country and that you can learn by visiting it, is all too easily forgotten. What fascinates me about listening to these incredible recordings from the past is that initially you might think the style is old-fashioned, but then you get beneath the surface and discover a core of common humanity preserved in incredible music-making that simply reminds you what life is all about!’.

Johnsons’ weekly podcasts will be available to stream from the Archive Classics website and via RSS by subscription. In addition to the free podcast, an extended 90-minute version is available to subscribers for a monthly fee (£5.99), to both stream and download. This premium podcast will be a high quality audio (320 Kbps MP3 file) including bonus tracks.

The emphasis on informed listening is central to the project. As Executive Director of Classic Arts Wendy Thompson notes, ‘So many sites have a large range of music but very little editorial content. It can be very difficult for people who are looking to discover great recordings from the past to know where to begin. […] Each free podcast will be like a radio programme, and we’re hoping to generate a lot of enthusiasm among subscribers and those who listen to the free podcast. We also want to offer recordings that are not otherwise commercially available, things that have simply dropped out of the catalogue.’

Among the thousands of pieces selected, many are essential works within the classical repertoire performed under the baton of important conductors such as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter and Wilhelm Mengelberg. In addition, Alfred Cortot, Walter Gieseking, Artur Schnabel and Joseph Szigeti are representative of the outstanding chamber music selection.

In total, the recordings collected in Archive Classics amount to around 4,000. They have been selected and digitalized in partnership with some of the finest international labels, such as Pristine Audio, Biddulph Recordings (specialist in chamber music and orchestral recording), US-based Music and Arts imprint, Romophone (specialist in vocal music; APR (specialist in piano recording).

Johnson is not only a passionate supporter of this project. Some of his commentaries provide another perspective from which to consider the Archive Classics initiative. His comments on the fundamental role of technology nowadays are particularly poignant. ‘To hear Toscanini playing Wagner to an American audience during the middle of the Second World War’, Johnson mentions as an example, ‘is to discover something transcendent, something that goes far beyond the terrible destruction that was going on then and still goes on today. […] [Technology] reminds us, no matter how musical fashions might change, what this music has meant to people in very different situations and cultures’.

As a conjugation of high technology and historical attentiveness, this project has the potential to become an indispensable source for those interested in knowing more about important performances from the past and enjoying exceptional recordings.

by Marina Romani

Photo: Broadcaster Stephen Johnson

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