No one, tragedy of tragedies, has ever asked me what my favourite record label is – and how oddly heartening it is that phrases like ‘record label’ should still be current, just about, even though the technology has moved on – but if they did I would automatically reply: Hyperion. My confidence in this opinion is so ingrained that it’s more of a reflex than a response now.
What do we know about Hyperion Records, other than that it’s an anagram of Proceed, Horny Sir? It’s a UK-based classical record label, technically independent though it boasts performers that any label would either die or kill for. It’s particularly strong in the fields of instrumental and chamber music, choral music and song, which is not to denigrate its orchestral or opera recordings. One of its greatest joys is that, alongside mainstream releases like Angela Hewitt’s Bach and Graham Johnson’s all-inclusive traversals of European song, one finds arcane repertoire that would never be recorded by the likes of EMI or the Universal Classics labels.
Standards of performance, recording and presentation are almost unfalteringly high. Meticulous attention is paid to booklet notes and cover art. The number of dodgy releases among the approximately 1,400 currently in their catalogue can be counted on one’s fingers. The Hyperion website, once one is accustomed to it, is a model of transparency and felicity. One can’t generally buy Hyperion CDs at great discount from Amazon et al., and so the annual summer sale on their own website – and the perpetual special offers available throughout the year – provide both a great opportunity for bargain buying and a warming feeling of giving one’s money directly to the people who make the CDs. Recent innovations include a shiny downloading service that looks exciting and intuitive.
Now that I have a bit more time on my hands, and in honour of Hyperion’s 30th birthday this year, please expect a spate of blog posts on ten favourite Hyperion recordings of mine. Narrowing the list down will be problematic, but I will try and restrict myself to two Hamelins, tops.