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Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection

Manufacturers & Distributors

Due to the use of a generally public domain repertoire, there is far more diversity in the availability of classical music recordings than there is in other genres of music. For instance, there are currently more than thirty available recordings of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" that run the gamut from ultra-budget ($3) to premium ($17 or more) in price, and range from the sublime to the ridiculous in the quality of the performance and/or recording. Various resources are available to the collector to assist in determining how best to spend his or her money. Many publications are available that contain reviews by professionals who have access to a very wide variety of recordings. Many public libraries have built significant CD collections that are available to the general public.

Many are concerned about the longevity of CDs. In general, tests and real-life experence has shown CDs to be durable and lilel;y to last at least as long as originally specified. However, some problems have arisen with defective manufacturing processes, not, it should be noted, with the basic technology of CDs. One such example is Philips-DuPont Optical, which manufactured some defective discs between 1989 and 1991 for a variety of labels. The article "PDO & CD Bronzing" has more information on this issue.

Currently there are four major manufacturers producing a significant percentage of the available classical recordings. These manufacturers and the classical labels they issue (including acting as distributor) are:

  • Universal Music Group (formerly Polygram/PGD) - A&M, Decca/London, Deutsche Grammophon, Philips, Archiv, L'Oiseau-Lyre, Argo, Mercury
  • Sony BMG Music Entertainment - Vivarte, Columbia Masterworks, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, Eurodisc, ECM, RCA Victor
  • EMI Group (CEMA) - EMI Angel, Angel Studio, Pathe Marconi, Reflexe, Virgin
  • Warner Music Group (a.k.a. WEA) - Nonesuch, Erato, Teldec, Finnadar

All of these manufacturers have extensive classical music catalogs. In addition, there are currently several hundred domestic and foreign independent manufacturers who market their smaller catalogs through independent distributors or the major manufacturers. Allegro, Qualiton, Harmonia Mundi, Koch International, and Naxos are the five major independent distributors. Several of the independent companies, that specialize in classical only recordings, have built extensive catalogs that rival the major manufacturers (e.g. Chandos, Hyperion, BIS, Capriccio, Harmonia Mundi, Hungaroton, Nimbus, Denon, Supraphon, etc.). Here is a list of the current relationships between the major independent labels and their distributors (distributors may differ outside the U.S., and are subject to change without notice):

Allegro
Arte Nova, Arion, Carlton Classics, Challenge, Classica d'Oro, Cold Blue Music, D'Note, Delos, Doremi, ESS.A.Y, Endeavour Classics, Etherean Music, Fono, GM Recordings, Gothic Records, Hanssler Classic, Linn Records, Loft Recordings, Meridian, Metronome, NM Classics, Nimbus Records, Nuova Era, Opera d'Oro, Pierre Verany, RCM (Rubedo Canis Musica), Reference Recordings, Stradivarius, Summit, Tactus, Telarc, Vanguard
Harmonia Mundi
Alia Vox, Ambroisie, Calliope, Channel Classics, Chant du Monde, Dutton, Gimell, Hyperion, K617, LSO Live, Onyx Classics, Opera Rara, Praga, RCO Live, Russian Season, San Francisco Symphony, Tahra, Testament, Wergo
Koch International
Academy Sound & Vision, Chandos, Collegium, Koch International Classics/Koch Schwann, MD&G, New Albion, Ondine, Pearl
Naxos
Marco Polo, Naxos, CPO
Qualiton
Accent, Almaviva, Amati, Amon Ra, Antes, Arbiter, Archipel, Ars Musici, Bayer, BIS, Bongiovanni, Brilliant, Cedille, Cembal D'amour, Centaur, Christophorus, Classico, Col Legno, CRI, Dynamic, EBS, Elan, Fleur De Son, Glossa, Hungaroton, Myto, NKF, NMC, Norway Music, Novalis, Orfeo, Pavane, Raum Klang, Saydisc, Signum, Sterling, Supraphon, Talent, Thorofon, Timpani, Urania

In addition to the four major distributors given above, Albany, One World, and New World distributors are growing in size. For links to labels and dsitributors on the web, check the Recording Labels & Distributors Links page.

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