“I’m honoured and delighted to be here on this joyous occasion. It’s a bit of a flying visit, because I’ve made a number of recordings for Naxos, and you’ll appreciate that my earnings from them have forced me into tax exile status. No, but seriously: it is an honour to be asked to say something in celebration of a quarter of a century of Naxos, but I do so less as an employee than as a customer. Like many people in this room tonight, I started collecting gramophone records in the 1960’s when I was but an impoverished lad earning a few pence for sweeping chimneys or gouging the stones out of horses hooves—well, perhaps it wasn’t quite that long ago, but it certainly seems it. In those days if you suffered from the dangerous and—scientists now admit—largely incurable addiction to recorded music, you either bought your records second-hand (in which case you heard the music through an almost futuristic veil of pops, clicks, and unwritten glissandi when the needle leaped out of the groove and skidded across whole pages of the score) or you bought the products of one of the bargain labels like Allegro, or Woolworth’s own label, Hallmark, or Saga, or Delta, who were responsible for many noble recordings but were not above passing off pirate recordings, especially of the standard repertory, under outrageous pseudonyms. The one I particularly remember, attached to a recording of Brahms’s 1st Symphony, was attributed to a conductor whose last name was spelt Havergesse. Wilhelm Have A Guess. But Havergesse had to do. Anything else was prohibitively expensive and too good, I felt, for the likes of me.
Anyway, time rolled on, one started to earn what was then called proper money—and what in fact then WAS—proper money, and one started to buy the much grander products of the Major Recording Companies, which came out at regular intervals, unveiled with a kind of Religious Solemnity, by the Archimandrites and Lateran Bishops of the Industry the air heavy with incense and accompanied by low chanting and murmured cries of hallelujah. One almost genuflected as one purchased these sacred objects. And very good they were too, in many cases, but was reverence the ideal attitude in which to listen to music, which after all arises out of many warring and explosive elements, and is above all one of the lively arts? Anyway, their days were numbered, the Cardinals and the Monsignors of Recording, the tumbrils were rolling by, and a new, altogether less formal dispensation followed in which the small labels inherited the earth. And in due course—25 years ago, to be precise—lo, out of the East, a new CD label was born, in white boxes adorned with fine art reproductions, and heavenly choirs did NOT, at first sing in welcome of the new babe: it seemed at times that we were back to Delta and Saga at their naughtiest: to my subsequent shame I confess that for quite a long time I thought the name Capella Istropolitana was a coded joke or perhaps an anagram. Anyway, I thought snootily, this is all standard repertory stuff, I scarcely need trouble myself with it, though I might have paused to notice that they were all newly recorded, and that among the names attached to the to me so hilarious Capella Istropolitana—to which fine ensemble, one of the many jewels of musical life in Bratislava, I here apologise, formally and humbly, by the way—were such known and admired figures as our own, our very own much-loved Barry Wordsworth. But I didn’t; I didn’t notice; it was all beneath my attention.
Then I blinked, and suddenly, only a couple of years later, I took a patronising and cursory glance at a Naxos stack in a record shop—when there still was a connoisseur record shop in every town—it brings a tear to your eye to think of it—and there spread out in front of me was a simply extraordinary repertory of work in every genre, from across the ages, and from every nation on the face of the earth, newly recorded, by instantly recognisable artists, many of them among the most exciting new performers of their time. There were whole cycles of symphonies, quartets, sonatas; there were operas; there were entire ballets. Then there were deceased catalogues—Collins’s wonderful list, for example—absorbed into the current list and allowed to live again, or Bob Craft’s wonderful series, weirdly entitled Stravinsky the Composer—as opposed perhaps to Stravinsky the chartered accountant? And the superb series of re-mastered historical and often historic LPs. And Spoken Word, done with such ambition and such style and on such a scale.
I walked away from that shop weighed down with more than a dozen CDs, and I daresay not a week has gone by since then without my buying another Naxos. Or two. Or twelve. Especially touring the country, as I have been forced to do—sorry, which it is my supreme pleasure to do—there’s nothing that cheers one up quite like buying a couple of CDs to listen to in the dressing Room—the latest Maxwell Davies Quartet; gems of Yiddish Music Theatre; my old chum José Serebrier conducting Stokowski transcriptions; Joseph Holbrooke’s Violin Concerto; piano concertos from Azerbaijan; and for a little light relief the complete War and Peace read by Neville Jason. All these extraordinary and unprecedented things—and what I have described is the merest sliver of what’s on offer—brought to life for us at a knockdown price by this remarkable company and this remarkable man, immeasurably enriching the quality of our lives, increasing our understanding of the phenomenal diversity of music itself, introducing us to countless musicians of which, in the Good Old Bad Old Days, we might never have heard.
As I read Nicolas Soames’s compelling account of the company and the man who made it—it’s a wonderful, illuminating read—I was struck by two things about the story of this shrewd, determined, brilliant and original man, Klaus Heymann—one is that his involvement in making records started with live music, arranging concerts in Hong Kong—that music as a living, breathing, spontaneous event is behind everything he has done in and for the recording industry, and it is no surprise that in Takako Nishizaki he has a living breathing musician at his side; but also that like me, like the vast majority of his customers, though he loves music and is deeply knowledgeable about it, he can neither read nor play it. So if he wants to hear something, he must get someone to play it for him. So much of the vast and fascinating repertory he has explored, both on the Marco Polo label and for Naxos is music that most of us have only, frustratingly, been able to read about. In that sense, and maybe not only in that sense, he resembles a great Renaissance prince, commanding performances of the music he wants to hear, by the artists he wants to hear performing it. The difference is that he has invited us all into his Palace of Sound and Words. That buzzword of yesteryear comes to mind: Access. Access to that Aladdin’s Cave that is the history of music—access for anyone who can rustle up £6.99. So, ladies and gentlemen, with great respect and deep gratitude, I give you Naxos—one of the many fascinating nuggets in Nic Soames’s book tells us that if things had turned out slightly differently, I so nearly might have been giving you Lesbos—I give you Naxos, but above all I give you the man who is Naxos, Klaus Heymann.”