June 1998

The blue sheep of record companies

Stephen Johnson celebrates NMC Recordings.

How quickly things change in the classical record industry. Having entered the nineties in full sail, brimming with pioneering confidence, many companies have now sprung leaks, or simply gone under. But NMC, a tiny company devoted to contemporary music, with support from the Holst Foundation and whatever profits it can make from its carefully non-fashion-oriented catalogue, is still sailing. It has just had a considerable stroke of luck, bringing out a recording of a work which it seems large numbers of people want to hear, Anthony Payne's completion of Elgar's Third Symphony – just in time for the triumphant premiŹre in February. So has Elgar/Payne given NMC a new lease of commercial life? 'We’re enormously pleased', says NMC’s executive producer, the composer Colin Matthews. ‘We’ve sold around 25,000 copies already. Still, when you think that the singer Michael Bolton aims to sell 40,000 discs in a week, it's not much in the grand scheme of things. We still need all the help we can get. We've had some Arts Council funding, but that seems to have dried up now, and there are so many things we need money to buy and bring out. There’s a tape of Maxwell Davies's opera Taverner just sitting there, waiting for someone to put up the money. So if there's somebody friendly out there with £100,000 to spare, please ring now!' The extraordinary thing is that, with so little funds, and some of its team working 'charitably' (i.e. for virtually nothing), NMC has managed to establish a strong profile. NMC discs have repeatedly attracted glowing criticism in the record press. A disc of Robin Holloway's Second Concerto won the company a Gramophone Award, and there have been innumerable listings in national newspaper and magazine Pick of the Year columns. Critics also tend to notice how non-partisan the catalogue seems, from the chaste simplicity of Howard Skempton to the teeming complexity of James Dillon, from the acerbic, uncompromising precision of Elisabeth Lutyens to the emotive directness of Andrezej Panufnik. 'There was so much music around that was obviously important but unrecorded', says Matthews. 'We made it our "mission" to fill the gaps. Take Proms commissions – so often a work would appear, to great eclat, and then more or less disappear. We’ve already started there: Anthony Payne's Time's Arrow for example, and we’re hoping to pick up another work that made quite a stir and then vanished, Hugh Wood’s Symphony – we've provisionally got that down for the end of 1999. Other new releases include Jonathan Lloyd's Fourth Symphony – just about the craziest piece of all time, and sensational! – Martin Butler's Fixed Doubles and O Rio, works by Simon Bainbridge, Brian Elias, Peter Paul Nash, and a disc of works by Gordon Crosse – a much admired composer 20 years ago, who just dropped out. None of these are obvious commercial releases – but if we were all slaves to market forces, where would we be?'

To contact NMC email them or telephone 0171 828 3432.

All discs released by NMC Recordings are available at special prices to spnm members – why not join us!

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Event listings for this month

May 1998:
spnm looks to the future

April 1998:
New Music 98 in Manchester