What price Tippett conducting Tippett?
Tucked away on the BBC Radio 3 blog among the usual thoughts of Chairman Roger is a valuable reminiscence by the BBC Symphony Orchestra's sub-principal viola Phil Hall. In his blog post Phil Hall recalls how in March 1993 the BBCSO recorded Michael Tippet's Second and Fourth Symphonies for broadcast with the 88 year old composer conducting. What the post does not go on to explain is that the symphonies were also issued as the free cover mount CD seen above with BBC Music Magazine in 1995, but, to my knowledge - see correction in comments - have never been released as commercial discs.
As I write my BBC CD from 1995 of the Second Symphony plays. It is a spacious reading in which Colin Davis' insistence is traded for the composer's authority; the BBCSO playing is inspired, and the sound captured in All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak is of demonstration quality. Which brings me to the question of why this, and thousands of other valuable recordings, remain hidden in the BBC vaults. In answer to that question vague references are usually made to contractual difficulties. But this has not stopped a limited number of archive recordings being released at almost full price to the benefit of rights owner BBC Worldwide - 2012/13 profit £155m - and of licensee ICA Artists - profit unknown. One of these ICA Classics releases of a BBC archive recording, Sir Adrian Boult's 1976 Elgar First Symphony, was described by me in an earlier post titled A highly recommended rip-off..
If it was commercially viable to give the Tippett CD away to promote another BBC venture in 1995, why cannot it be sold today at a realistic price? It would be doing classical music a valuable service if Tippett conducting Tippett and many other great archive recordings were made available for download and as CDs on a BBC Live label at a price that recoups no more than mastering and distribution costs - £4.99? perhaps - instead of being treated as tradable commodities. There is a fundamental flaw with the current practice of treating great classical recordings like cocoa futures. If the commodity traders misread the cocoa market, some more cocoa can always be grown. But if a corporation misreads the classical market - and let's face it, Universal Music, Warner, the BBC et al have made an Olympic sport out of doing just that - recordings of Tippett conducting Tippett and Boult conducting Elgar can never be grown again.
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