Every music-lover loves Hyperion Records; our debt to this company is difficult to quantify or to overestimate. From its pioneering days in the Eighties right up to the present (for the future, read on) it has quintessentialised a mix of imaginative repertory, inspired performances, flawless technical standards, generous accompaniment of notes and texts, and (last, least, but by now an expected extra) cover-art that is enticing, appropriate, beautiful.
The range has been enormous: eschewing the blockbusters of grand opera and large symphony orchestra, the company has concentrated mainly upon a bewildering multiplicity of richly rewarding specialities. Early music from Hildegard of Bingen onwards (Gothic Voices with around 20 discs!); mediaeval, renaissance and baroque and Bruckner handsomely covering religious choral music; reams of off-beat Vivaldi and Handel; neglected pathways of the ‘English Orpheus’ over four centuries, from John Jenkyns’s viol-fantasias, through Lawes, Locke, Blow, Greene, Boyce, Arne, Dibdin, Thomas Linley the Younger (boyhood friend of Mozart, a genius cut off at 22), Attwood, Wesleys (father and son), to Bantock, Boughton and Bax; romantic rarities from Russia; delectable French songs and salon music (Chabrier, Chausson, Chaminade); Percy Grainger and Louis-Moreau Gottschalk; classics of light music; and much more.
Above all, its series. I’ve written occasionally in these pages of, among others, the complete set of Purcell’s Ceremonial Odes; and called the complete Schubert Lieder arguably the gramophone’s single greatest achievement. To these could be added its respective follow-ups — Purcell’s complete output of anthems and other religious pieces, and the songs of Schumann and Wolf. Such grand sweeps don’t stand alone. Longest of all, if less rewarding artistically, is the breathtaking coverage of all Liszt’s solo piano music (to which can be added distinguished gatherings of Rachmaninov’s, Scriabin’s, Medtner’s), and the ongoing deluge of romantic concertos, which has uncovered half-forgotten cart-tracks athwart the ditches and pylons of otherwise well-ploughed terrain. Twaddle, self-indulgence, frivolity sit unashamed alongside supreme art; thus the bravura brio of Chistopher Herrick’s ‘Organ Fireworks’ (12 so far) is balanced by his scrupulously sober account of Bach’s complete organ oeuvre, Gottschalk and Liszt by Angela Hewitt’s piano versions of the Bach Suites, Partitas, Preludes and Fugues, and Tatiana Nikolayeva’s Art of Fugue and Goldberg Variations.
Mainstream orchestral warhorses are not Hyperion’s thing. In compensation, the representation of classic chamber music is of wonderful quality — Mendelssohn, Brahms, Fauré spring immediately to mind. And so it is also with song — German, French, English; and of oddments, curiosities, offbeat composers and combinations that often enough have been a delightful revelation of hitherto unsuspected calibre. Nor has most recent music been neglected. Again, the offbeat predominates, rather than yet another Rite of Spring, Janacek Sinfonietta, Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, Turangal