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A history of the super-budget label Naxos to mark its 25th anniversary becomes, perforce, an account of an unprecedentedly turbulent quarter-century in the recording industry. So a formidable task confronted Nicolas Soames.

But first some declarations of interest. Soames was a regular contributor to CM before setting up Naxos AudioBooks and is a long-time friend of this reviewer.

Worry not, though, dear reader about objectivity. The chapter on classical recording 1977-90 contains some dubious generalisations and there are some excruciating mixed metaphors: ‘the bubble had ... burst and become a dogfight’. The presentation – third-person narration interspersed with interviews – leads to much repetition; but that can be helpful. Heymann’s frequently stated regrets that his German upbringing denied him a chance to learn a musical instrument may be a clue to what drove him to become a creative force in music from a business perspective.

But the sheer sweep of this book and the fascination in the tale it tells overshadow such quibbles. The phrase ‘business empire’ is overused in journalese but applies exactly to the house that Heymann built. From selling cameras to US soldiers returning home from the Vietnam war to a technology-fuelled operation that ranges from the little Finnish label Ondine to a squad of digital technicians in the Philippines, a business that grew from a French supermarket order for 30 titles to one that delivers millions of hours of music via CDs, DVDs, downloads and online streaming, this is an epic story that demands – and receives – dramatic treatment.

Within the 450 pages there are also valuable insights about how the music business operates. Heymann acknowledges the failures – excursions into jazz, world music and DVD-Audio among them. But the success is undeniable, not least that a brand that was for years derided by the classical establishment is now in statistical terms the classical recording industry major of the 21st century.

PHILLIP SOMMERICH Read the full review on Agora Classica


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