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Packaging is – well, not quite everything, but something. Caruso’s 78s might well have been presented in plain brown paper sleeves with no image of him – not like Di Stefano in a natty sports car or Domingo with a funny beard. But upon the arrival of the LP, the design of the printed sleeve launched an interesting chapter in the history of recordings, which has only faltered now that the poky CD offers so little scope for creativity.

In both design and catalogue, Turnabout was a unique label. For the off-piste collector, all sorts of gems appeared. A wartime Furtwängler ‘Eroica’ Symphony has sent many a collector scraping through the bins in the specialist shops, for instance, its matt, cardboardy sleeves reassuring them that they weren’t being ripped off by marketing. To save money, ‘Clarifoil’ laminate, made by British Celanese, was usually applied only to the front, if at all. The present LP also hails from the time when what I call the Sergeant Pepper effect took hold of classical music: the idea that a dash of pychedelic cover art would make your purchase cool, man.

Here, Turnabout excelled – not least for the humour in its covers. Debussy is hardly Strawberry Fields, but this funky cover would not let you down as you let your hair down and got your flares out. The image – by one Vernon Kisk, whose name seems not to have survived into the Googlesphere – combines with charm and humour all sorts of themes from the music: Debussy at his (oddly-legged) piano, his adored daughter, the moon, one of his beloved cats, a happy island shore and so on. Didn’t the composer even have a thing about green suits?

Turnabout evolved from Vox, founded in 1945 by a distant relation of Mendelssohn. He bought in recordings mainly made in Europe, often changing the names of the orchestras for contractual reasons and running the whole thing on a shoestring. He had a good ear, and in the 1950s and 1960s issued recordings of artists such as Brendel and Klein, Horenstein and Klemperer. There is even something to be said for prefering the Schubert that Brendel recorded then to his later, knottier style, and his complete Beethoven piano works was a typical Vox endeavour. Indeed, Vox offered an extraordinary range of ‘complete’ sets at bargain prices – I treasure my Friedrich Wührer Beethoven concertos, but I also treasure my Turnabout recording of Crumb’s Black Angels; the company had nothing if not an eclectic catalogue!

In addition to this Debussy collection, Peter Frankl’s complete Schumann solo piano works was also recently re-released in digital format. Born in Budapest in 1935, Frankl was taught by such luminaries as Kodály and Marguerite Long. His London debut was 50 years ago and many of us recall with fondness his regular appearances in Edinburgh, often with violinist György Pauk – with whom he has made a number of recordings – and cellist Ralph Kirshbaum in trio performances rich in exchange and understanding. Die hards will recall a Freemasons’ Hall recital for which Frankl and Pauk were delayed on their train; so Kirshbaum announced that he would do ‘what a cellist does in such circumstances and play Bach’. (How one misses the Freemasons’ Hall as a venue, with its dark, homey accoustic and stupendous marble lavatories.) Frankl is a complete musician – I also recall a tremendous Rite of Spring on two pianos with Tamás Vásáry – and his Brahms Piano Quintet with the Lindsays, for instance, is a grand treat.

His Debussy – the present disc is really a sampler from the complete set he recorded at the time – is played the composer’s way, so to speak: sensitive and idiomatic, but direct. His playing lacks the obsession with impossibly subtle dynamics and tones of a pianist such as Michelangeli, whose astonishing pianism can almost startle us out of hearing the music. Technically, Turnabout could never have lived up to such sonic preening in any case, but slicing this record out from my shelves has reminded me happily of how the label lived up to other priorities, opening ears and possibilities in a quirky way.

JONATHAN BROWN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2013 - ©Rhinegold Publishing