Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Various artists
Hyperion HYP 20 (2 CDs) [156.48]

Ted Perry's superb label has been with us for twenty years, yet it seems only yesterday that many of us were rushing to our local record stores to buy A 66001, Finzi and Stanford Clarinet Concertos with Thea King and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Alun Francis (and succeeding releases), marvelling at the fine production standards, beautiful artwork and shrewdly conceived artist and repertoire choices. Shrewd too the choice of the LP prefix 'A' which immediately put the label to the forefront in every possible way, a feat it has maintained to this day - a true Class A act .

We have reviewed many of the special mid-priced releases, reissued to celebrate Hyperion's 20th birthday, over the last few weeks. Any one of them would grace a collection large or small and they are all required listening for those who have an interest in the history of the breakthrough of the independent labels at a time when the majors were remaining powerful but too often complacent.

Ted Perry recognised that CD, far from endangering choice, would cause an explosion in interest in 'classical' music and that Beethoven symphony cycles, grand operas and their ilk were no longer the driving force of the business. The name of the game was now to be Repertoire. Hyperion has done more than any label to expand interest in the byways of music, yet throughout its twenty-year journey it has consistently discovered forgotten masterpieces and neglected works of real quality, largely avoiding the second rate.

Ted Perry, already an industry stalwart when he founded Hyperion, has relied heavily on two key factors: a continuous and impassioned research programme unique amongst classical record executives (reading, concert going and radio listening) and that essential element - instinct. The story of how he heard a radio broadcast of a little known group performing the music of a twelfth century abbess and, marvelling at the sound, contacted the artists (who must have been mightily surprised to meet an A&R man who actually wished to be pro-active rather than be talked into a project) and quickly set up a recording, is well-known. Hildegard of Bingen's music featured on 'A Feather on the Breath of God' gave Hyperion that impetus and good fortune that all new enterprises really need. The album was a huge hit for Perry and Gothic Voices and secured the label's future. Now, many years later Hildegard's music features strongly in the all too familiar trend to promote slow, spiritual music as 'relaxing classics'; yet Perry had already been there, done that, and moved on.

As a testimony to the qualities of Hyperion, this inexpensive 2 CD set can hardly be faulted. Lucy Hayward-Warburton has chosen not only tracks from the finest Hyperion releases to appear since The Essential Hyperion - 1 (1992), but has also ensured that newcomers to the label will find the familiar interspersed amongst the unfamiliar, all compiled to make each disc an enjoyable programme in itself.

Perry's long-term loyalty to his artists is also well demonstrated in The Essential Hyperion - 2. Tracks from The King's Consort (Handel's Fireworks Musick), Elizabeth Wallfisch (Thomas Linley the Younger's Violin Concerto), Sir Charles Mackerras (Schubert's Symphony in D, D708A), Emma Kirkby (Bach's Sheep may safely graze), Gothic Voices (Anon. - Dulcia), Graham Johnson (in various roles - not just the wondrous Schubert Edition) and Thea King (Hurlstone's Intermezzo from Four Characteristic Pieces) are just a few that feature Hyperion 'regulars'.

Other highlights amongst the 51 tracks include Britten's fascinating arrangement of Purcell's 'Sound the trumpet', Chausson's Siciliene from his Concert in D major with especially fine playing from Philippe Graffin (violin) and Schumann's Sangers Trost with Christine Schaffer in glorious voice. But pretty well all of the tracks are highlights, such is the sheer quality and consistency of the performances and the recordings. To nit-pick I personally find Angela Hewitt overly mannered in the Aria from the Goldberg Variations and perhaps Robert White's age works against him in the famous 'Pale hands I loved' (but Stephen Hough's accompaniment is truly superb).

But this is a marvellous set, documenting a great British enterprise. What joys, I wonder, will be found on Hyperion's 25th anniversary selection? Knowing Ted Perry they will be both unexpected and revelatory.


Simon Foster



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