Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Year's Remembrances of Paul Reid and radio that was

A bit of a diversion again this week, but one I have been meaning to write for some time.  The impetus for my column this week came earlier this month when Robert Williston sent out an email requesting help locating a copy of Paul Reid's Christmas album for his Museum of Canadian Music.  It is a wonderful and valuable resource for Canadian music of every description, based in Calgary, Alberta.  Their website,, has been compiling a collection of Canadian Christmas music this season, and the Paul Reid was one they simply couldn't find.

No surprise there.  I picked up a copy of the original release on RCA Records, dating from 1974, sometime in the late 70s at the old A&A's Records & Tapes on Yonge Street in Toronto, probably paying about $ 4.99 for it, plus tax of course.  As lovely and enchanting as Paul Reid's own Christmas memories are on the disc, the real gem is his reading of The Littlest Angel.  I have heard several other recordings of the story as well, including Fred Gwynne for heaven's sake, but none came close to tugging at the heartstrings as Paul Reid did.  The album grew out of his annual radio broadcast in early December on CJAD in Montreal and became hugely popular with his many listeners at the time.

It has been out of print for many years now, and I had my copy transferred to CD along with his earlier recording, A Letter to My Love, released on Columbia Records in 1967, which I picked up many years ago as well.  Listening to both over the last few days brought back a lot of memories for me, and I thought I would share some of them with you this week.

Paul Reid began his career in Peterborough at CHEX Radio, moving to Hamilton in 1954 to host a show that included his trademark poetry readings at CHML.  It launched his career and ten years later in 1964, he got a call from CJAD in Montreal, the powerhouse AM English-language radio station then part of the Standard Radio group.  He stayed there many years, raising his young family and becoming one of the most recognizable radio personalities in the city.  He was lured back to Hamilton in the late 70s, but the maxim "you can't go home again" played out, and he returned to Montreal to host an evening show on rival CFQR Radio from 1980 until his untimely death in 1983.

That is a capsule overview of Paul's career; the full bio and lots of other great information is provided by his son Mike on the website, which is well worth a visit.  But the information there is merely a launching point for me as I offer a few heartfelt remembrances of my own of a great broadcaster we lost far too early in his career.

I knew of Paul originally through his first album, A Letter to My Love, recorded at the height of his popularity in Montreal.  I was not aware of his radio career personally; that came much later when I heard he had returned to Hamilton, and late one evening as I was driving back home to Toronto from attending a show at Hamilton Place, I decided to finally tune in and hear him on the air for the first time.  I never forgot that night; that familiar, gentle voice enveloping me in a serenity suggesting no matter what else is going on around you, Paul says everything will be okay, and he was right.

I didn't realize it at the time, but Paul influenced my early career in radio when I moved here to St. Catharines to host the evening show, Niagara by Night in the spring of 1981.  It was primarily music and I was all of 24 at the time; eventually, though, I moulded the show to reflect my personality and that included the occasional story and even poetry late at night, as Paul had done for so many years.  I could never hope to carry on the legacy he had established; no-one could.  But without thinking about it at the time I was honouring him by carrying on the tradition in my own small way.  I miss those days of radio when personality still reigned and you had some measure of creative control over your show.

For several Christmas seasons, either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, I hosted my own special show of music and stories, all chosen by myself, on CKTB Radio.  I always included Paul's fabulous recording of The Littlest Angel, of course.

Back in the 70s when Paul returned to Hamilton, I was spending a lot of my time in the evening listening to another radio personality making the evening hours something special in his own unique way.  Bill Robinson hosted The Robinson Connection for several years on the old CKEY590 in Toronto, where I lived at the time, and it often had the same effect on me.

Later on in the 80s, my radio career becoming established in St. Catharines, I still drove to the family home in Toronto after I signed off Friday nights at midnight, so I spent many a late night driving with two other early radio influences for me, both on overnights at our parent station, CFRB in Toronto.  Weekends for many years were hosted by another former CJAD stalwart, Rod Dewar, whom I never met but thought I new through his radio show in the early morning hours.  It took months before I actually knew his name, as he rarely if ever actually said it on the air.  This intrigued me at a time when everyone else was giving theirs after almost every break.  I think it was someone else on the station promoting Rod's show coming up when I finally found out his name!

A few years ago when Rod passed away I found out much more about his legacy at CJAD in Montreal; but for me, one joke told in the middle of the night years ago while I was driving home to Toronto has stayed with me all these years:  a couple goes to a hotel and while there orders the 'honeymoon salad' - lettuce alone...okay, maybe you had to be there but I laughed that night in the car and never forgot it!

The third and final voice that influenced me in my early years is still around today; most recently as the voice of Home Depot Canada on their radio spots up until a couple of years ago if I remember correctly:  Fred Napoli.  Fred was for many years on CFRB's FM sister station, CKFM, but when I began listening to him he was, like Rod, hosting the weekend overnight show on CFRB.  Fred's voice is one-of-a-kind:  gentle, genial and knowledgeable.  He has lived life to the fullest and it shows in that wonderfully weathered voice of his.

Fred has been famous for many years for his many stories he told on the air, many of which I heard on those long, lonely drives to Toronto.  Many of them were included in a book entitled "Re-Inventing My Self", published around 1988 by Talent Seven Limited Publishing.  I ordered a copy of it, autographed no less, and treasure it to this very day.  If you ever manage to find a copy, grab it and enjoy - you won't regret it.

I have always wanted to meet Fred, and shake the hand of a man who, like the late Paul Reid and Rod Dewar, influenced me greatly in my early, formative years as a radio broadcaster.  To the best of my knowledge he still lives in the Dundas, Ontario area, so maybe someday...

Funny how an email out of nowhere brings the memories flooding back of voices from the past; four great broadcasters each making their marks on their industry with their great command of the English language and an ability to weave magic through the airwaves late at night with their own special skills.

Have a great New Year!

December 29th, 2012.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

As I write this, the shoppers are about to finish up at the malls around Niagara, and everyone will settle down to enjoy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with friends and family, I hope.  However you choose to celebrate and whatever your particular celebration might be, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season with the best of wishes for 2013.

For me, it is a long-standing tradition I spend Christmas Eve preparing for the annual Midnight Mass broadcast at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in downtown St. Catharines.  Luckily for me it is about a three-minute walk from my house, so if I end up going down to the wire at least I don't have far to go when the broadcast starts, especially if the weather is bad.

This will be the 80th consecutive broadcast of Midnight Mass on 610/CKTB in St. Catharines, where I have hung my many hats for over 31 years now.  Almost 25 of those years have been spent handling the duties on Christmas Eve; in fact I am only the third person to host these broadcasts since they began, and that makes me very proud.  How much longer can I go?  I'd like to think I can make it all the way to the 100th broadcast, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.  At any rate, you can listen tonight starting at 11:30 for the traditional carol service, followed by the Midnight Mass at, well, midnight.  It goes to about 1:30 or so, which makes for a late night for your humble scribe, but all in a day's work, they say.

Years ago, I had to write the script from scratch every year on my trusty old Underwood manual typewriter, which I still have, by the way.  But it was a long, laborious task using lots of correcting fluid and testing my patience for about three hours.  Now, of course, with computer technology being what it is, I can write the script in much less time by simply revising the previous year's script.  I always add new elements each year, but the basic framework remains the same throughout.  I think I have moved to my third generation computer since I starting using them to write the script many years ago.

There have been lots of disasters along the way, including computer crashes, negotiating an unfamilier laptop one year, and the worst year of all, of course, back in 1998 when I fell a couple of days beforehand and ended up in the hospital, imploring the doctor to let me out for the broadcast.  I had to make do with makeshift notes that year as I had destroyed my writing arm, but with the aid of painkillers I made it through and went straight home to bed afterwards.

Last year was basically very smooth and problem-free, and I hope we can build on that tonight,  providing of course I get the script written in time, so that is next, followed by a peaceful walk in the night air to relax and then change for the trip to the Cathedral.

The music I listen to while writing on Christmas Eve is very important to me, and I rarely deviate from the formula.  I usually listen to a couple of very old, traditional carol collections by the Percy Faith Orchestra (Music for Christmas) and The Philadelphia Orchestra with the Temple University Concert Choir (The Glorious Sound of Christmas) before graduating to more serious fare for the latter part of the evening.   Last year I starting listening to a couple of lovely new recordings, Christmas Noel with the Netherlands Bach Society and On Christmas Night, with the Choir of St. John's College, Cambridge.  They provide the perfect backdrop for the evening before I move on to two of my favourite recordings of all time for Christmas, Vaughan Williams' On Christmas Night with the City of London Symphonia and Joyful Company of Singers conducted by Richard Hickox, and the ever-popular Christmette, or Mass for Christmas Day by Michael Praetorius, with the Gabrieli Consort and Players conducted by Paul McCreesh.  The sound on this disc is amazing, and I never tire of hearing it year after year.

As much as I enjoy the evening and the broadcast itself, the favourite part of Christmas Eve for me is yet to come.  As I gather up my things to head home about 2 am, I walk quietly to my home, passing silent homes, some still with lights on inside and out.  I always have my tea once arriving home and listen to A Charlie Brown Christmas with the Vince Guaraldi Trio to relax me for bed.  Nothing ends the night better for me.

So, that is the plan for me this evening.  I hope whatever you do this evening, whomever you spend it with, it is a very special time for all of you.  This time comes but once a year, and once the commercialism is over with, the real meaning of the season is there, waiting for you without fail, year after year.

Merry Christmas to you and yours from my house to yours; may the day be as special to you however you choose to celebrate it tomorrow!

December 24th, 2012.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Looking for last-minute musical gift ideas this season?

Here we are, a couple of days before Christmas, and judging from the traffic out there so far today, I gather a lot of people still have some Christmas shopping to do.  Not to sound smug, but I started planning for a special surprise for my far better half back in August, so everything is now done other than one or two small items not critical to the day.  So I am ready and at your service to help you in your hour of need!

I always get last-minute calls asking for music for holiday gift-giving, so this year I thought I would write about some in-stock items through my website,, perfect for that musically-inclined person on your list.  If any of these interest you, email me directly at or call 905-682-9303.  I even deliver in the greater St. Catharines area - what could be easier?!

Every year, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tours North America prior to Christmas, and this year's tour brought them to Copps Coliseum in Hamilton back in November.  They have recorded non-holiday CDs over the years, but primarily they are known for their elaborate holiday-themed live shows.  Their recordings often provide the soundtrack for equally elaborate light shows for homes owned by over-enthusiastic technological wizards, too.  The new disc this year is actually an EP, meaning extended play.  That means it isn't a full length CD; there are only 5 tracks on this new one, but it also has a lower price.  Fifteen dollars all in takes the last one home.

Who doesn't love the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas?  I don't think this has ever been out of print since the first year the TV special aired back in 1965.  My first-issue CD in my personal collection has the music from the show and is great.  But later versions include bonus tracks, including the latest generation digipack version, which includes three bonus tracks from other Charlie Brown shows, including Thanksgiving.  This disc is one you can put on almost any time of the year, really, but Christmas is the perfect time to enjoy this wonderfully inventive music all over again.  Still in stock and only fifteen dollars right now!

A CHORAL CHRISTMAS - The Rodolfus Choir; Ralph Allwood, director
A more traditional choral Christmas release new this year on the Signum Classics label, this disc nonetheless proves rather interesting as it features a wide selection of Christmas music you don't often hear on disc.  Composers such as Kenneth Leighton, Philip Radcliffe, William Byrd, Morton Lauridsen and Francis Poulenc are all included here.  Works range from Lullay my liking by Holst to Bethlehem Down by Peter Warlock and Today the Virgin by John Tavener.  If you are looking for standard Christmas choral fare, look below for The Cambridge Singers, but if you want a bit of a challenge this year or sing in a choir yourself, this might be a great disc for yourself or to give.  Only twenty dollars!

A new compilation this season culled from earlier holiday releases by John Rutter and The Cambridge Singers, this disc still packs a lot of great material for very little money.  And Rutter is more identified with Christmas choral music than just about any other director alive today.   Rutter originals on this disc include Candlelight Carol and Of a Rose, a lovely Rose from his Magnificat, and his tasteful settings of Murray's Away in a Manger and the French traditional carol Angels We Have Heard on High are particular highlights.  If you love The Cambridge Singers or have someone on your list who does, this is a great disc.  Only twenty dollars.

CHRISTMAS STAR:  CAROLS FOR THE CHRISTMAS SEASON - The Cambridge Singers and Orchestra; John Rutter, cond.
I've always considered this to be the 'neglected' Christmas disc by The Cambridge Singers.   It has been around for several seasons now, but somehow seems overlooked for other, more familiar titles by the choir.  Too bad, since this collection of holiday favourites really is a nice collection.  The disc kicks off with the German traditional carol Good Christian men, rejoice, arranged by John Rutter, and continues with Rutter settings of such classics as Ding dong! Merrily on High and Joy to the World, as well as more contemporary fare such as Rutter's arrangement of the Mel Torme classic The Christmas Song.  This is a very traditional Christmas choral album, and well worth only twenty dollars.

HANDEL:  MESSIAH (COMPLETE) - Karina Gauvin, Robin Blaze, Rufus Muller, Brett Polegato; Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir; Ivars Taurins, cond.
This brand-new two-disc set finally presents the period-instrument ensemble Tafelmusik's celebrated Messiah on disc.  They know this music so well and have performed it live for many years at their home base in Toronto, even presenting a Sing-along Messiah where audience members are seated according to their voice, and are given a copy of the score in order to follow along with the chorus.  I did that once years ago, singing baritone if I recall, and it was great fun.  This new recording was made at Toronto's Koerner Hall last year, and now finally is available.  Beautiful sound with a wonderful acoustic, and the playing and singing is vibrant and polished.  Two-disc set available now for forty dollars.

For many, Perry Como simply embodies the Christmas spirit.  His smooth, effortless delivery was a perfect backdrop for whatever your hectic schedule throws at you over the holidays, and his television specials every year were must-see events.  This new three-disc set from Real Gone Music compiles holiday hits he performed on record, radio and his television shows over several decades.  Just about everything he ever recorded for Christmas is on this set, including Silent Night, Frosty the Snowman and God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen among many others.  This is a great set to give or to get.  Brand new this year and available now for fifty dollars.

That should give you some gift ideas as we head into the home stretch.  On Monday, I will write about my favourite time of the year, Christmas Eve, and what I will be listening to Monday evening.

Happy shopping!

December 22nd, 2012.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Finding the Christmas spirit in difficult times

I was debating just what to write in this space this weekend, although I knew from the outset it would be holiday themed.  I knew I would touch on the Niagara Symphony Holiday Pops concerts this weekend, the second of which is this afternoon at 2:30 in case you are interested.  But I have been preoccupied with the news the past few days and by way of a cathartic exercise, I will write here what thoughts I have assembled thus far and get it out of me into the open.

By my calculations there have been three shootings in the United States this week alone:  one at a mall, one yesterday at a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, and of course, the terrible tragedy at a school in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday morning.  While the Newtown killings are by far the worst we've seen for some time, especially since 20 small children have died at the hand of a young gunman whose mental state is being called into question, all deaths due to gunmen in public places such as we saw this week are tragic.  A life is a life, be it young or old.

Thankfully the Alabama shootings only involved two people injured save for the gunman, killed by police on the spot.  Should he have been killed as quickly as he was?  Probably not, but I understand the reaction given the events of Friday morning.  But the larger question following the past year of gun violence in the States has to be asked:  should anyone be allowed to have in their possession a gun or should restrictions be placed on them?

I know this is not an easy question to answer, and I for one do not claim to know the answer.  But I do know putting more guns in the hands of more people in order to properly defend themselves, as suggested by some in the States, is clearly not the answer.  Gun control would help, of course, but that would be a bitter pill to swallow for our neighbours to the south.  We have gun control here in Canada, but some still acquire guns and use them to kill people, but certainly not on the scale people do in the States.  Still, something has to be done and unless we can come up with a better solution, stiffer gun control laws wouldn't hurt.

The mental stability of the people involved in these shootings is always called into question and you have to ask how these people manage to fall through the cracks and people don't provide the help required before it is too late.  Some way must be found to detect, somehow, something is wrong with an individual before it is too late and the inevitable happens.

When I was at the Niagara Symphony concert last evening I watched people in the lobby, safe in the knowledge we are generally safe in the world we live in, able to go home and continue to prepare for Christmas or whatever celebration they have this month.  But life can change in an instant, as we saw this week more than once.  Christmas won't come to the people of Newtown, Connecticut this year, nor for many years to come as they continue to grieve their loss, I suspect.

My heart aches for these people and what they must be feeling right now.  But I also continue to have faith in mankind that we will find a way out of this, hopefully sooner rather than later.  We have to; we owe it to our own children to find a way before it is too late.

This Christmas, as you gather your family around for the holiday season, enjoy what we have and the celebrations that ensue.  Enjoy the gifts, the music, the decorations.  But take more than a moment this season to be especially thankful for what we have and what we ourselves thankfully have not had to endure.  The people of Newtown need our prayers, our support, and whatever help we can give them in order to get through this tragedy.

This Christmas, let's try to practice "Peace on earth; good will toward men."  We need it now more than ever.

December 17th, 2012.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas events in Niagara this month

For some reason I have been feeling rather "Grinchly" so far this season, finding it harder than usual to get into the Christmas spirit.  I usually have no problem at all, but this year, things are different and I have no idea why.  But today I spent a few minutes inside Creations by Helen for some gift ideas and I am finally starting to feel a twinge of that ol' Christmas spirit.  So, let's capitalize on that and take a look at what holiday-themed events are still to come this month in Niagara.

Tonight at 7:30 and tomorrow afternoon at 2:30, Chorus Niagara presents their Christmas concert and yes, this year it is Handel's Messiah.  For some, Christmas just doesn't begin until Handel's Messiah is here, and I must admit I count myself amongst those souls.  One year, I even did two in one day!  I attended the Chorus Niagara Sunday afternoon performance in St. Catharines and then in the evening, drove to Guelph for the Guelph Chamber Choir performance at the River Run Centre.  I loved hearing two different approaches to the same work in the same day, but now that I am somewhat older and (hopefully) wiser, I doubt I will do that again soon.

Chorus Niagara presents Messiah every other year so you can appreciate the work more, and that seems to be a successful strategy Artistic Director Robert Cooper has followed for several years now.  Usually in their non-Messiah years, another group in the area would pick up the slack and present theirs, but this year Chorus Niagara has the playing field all to themselves.

Soloists joining Chorus Niagara tonight and tomorrow include David Trudgen, counter-tenor, Isaiah Bell, tenor, Jacqueline Woodley, soprano and Anthony Cleverton, baritone.  The Talisker Players accompany them along with Chorus Niagara organist Lynne Honsberger.  Tickets should still be available for both performances at the door if you want to take a chance, although seating will be tight for either performance.

Tonight's performance is in Grimsby at the modern Mountainview Christian Reformed Church; tomorrow afternoon at the almost as modern Calvary Church on Scott Street.  If you go, don't forget to stand during the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus, by the way.

Elsewhere around the Region this weekend, Canadian singer Michael Ciufo presents his Christmas concert tonight as part of the Niagara Concerts season in Niagara Falls at the auditorium on Epworth Circle.  The concert begins at 8 pm and tickets should still be available at the door.  Sunnday afternoon Canadian singer John McDermott pays his annual visit to the Centre for the Arts, Brock University at 2:30.  McDermott is always a crowd favourite wherever he goes, so this concert will likely be close to a sellout.  You can call the Brock box office for tickets at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, or take your chances at the door tomorrow afternoon.

There is another Christmas Choral Concert this weekend in Niagara, and that is Sunday night at 7 pm at the Niagara United Mennonite Church on Niagara Stone Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  The Rotary Club of NOTL presents their 12th annual concert featuring choirs and other groups from area churches including St. Mark's Anglican, Bethany Mennonite, Niagara United Mennonite, St. Andrew's Presbyterian, Grace United, as well as the Evergreen Singers and the Wandering Minstrel.

The annual fundraiser is only $ 20 a ticket, with proceeds going to community programs in Niagara, Pathstone Mental Health, and RAFT.  As well, a share of the proceeds will go to the Rift Valley water collection program in Kenya, where rainwater harvesting tanks are constructed to help the rural poor to collect rainwater due to limited rainfall and contaminated ground water.  Tickets are available from any Rotarian or at the door tomorrow night.

Although I have written before in this space about the newest Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects show for the holidays, it bears repeating as the show continues at the Seneca Queen Theatre in downtown Niagara Falls through to December 16th.  It's a live stage adaptation of the classic movie It's a Wonderful Life, although adapted by Jon Osbaldeston and director Barbara Worthy as a radio play based on the 1946 Lux Radio version.  All the actors present the action as you would see it if you were sitting in the radio studio rather than listening at home, complete with the requisite sound effects man right there on stage with them.

Many of the actors are Shaw Festival stalwarts, including Patty Jamieson, Jenny L. Wright, Jeff Meadows and Ric Reid, along with several more local actors, some of whom handle several characters throughout the production.  One of the nicest parts of the production, for me at least, is the fact they have modelled the broadcast on a CKTB Radio studio setting circa 1946, so if you have memories of those long-lost days of live drama on the radio, this production is the one to see.

Tickets are still available and can be purchased through the box office at905-374-SHOW or by logging on to

Looking a little further ahead in the month, the annual Christmas Pops concert with the nso comes up next weekend, titled A Holiday Wonderland.  Niagara Symphony Associate Conductor Laura Thomas has programmed a varied concert featuring tried-and-true holiday classics as well as some surprises, including the rarely-heard Beatlecracker Suite, based on Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite but featuring music of The Beatles.  It is quite a clever work I have long admired and had in my collection at home, and I am currently offering the original version on a new Classical Beatles collection available through my website,  Email me through the website or directly at if you want a copy for the holidays.

The concerts are Saturday night at 7:30 and Sunday afternoon at 2:30, both at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University.  Tickets are available at the door or in advance through the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.  As always I will be set up in the lobby before, after and at intermission at both concerts with lots of holiday music available for purchase.

Finally, the Gallery Players of Niagara present Glissandi Christmas with guest narrator Guy Bannerman for two performances December 21st at Grace United Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and December 22nd at Fonthill United Church.  Both are evening performances at 7:30, and feature a number of Christmas classics as well as Bannerman narrating Howard Blake's The Snowman.  For tickets, call 905-468-1525 or go to

That's a lot of music for the holidays, but hopefully some of the events will find their way into your busy schedule this month.


December 8th, 2012.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Two gift ideas this holiday season

So here we are on the first of December and some people are just now getting in the mood for the holidays.  I don't know about you but I am having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit this year;  I have no idea why, as usually by now I am raring to go and have the Christmas music playing already.  But not this year; the Christmas spirit hasn't moved me quite yet.

If you are in the same boat as I and still have people to buy for who are musically inclined, maybe I can help.  My website, A Web of Fine Music, is at your service to provide you with music of every description from pop to classical, jazz to rock.  Just let me know what you're looking for and I will do my very best to find what you're looking for in time for the big day.  You can send your request through the order form on the website ( or send me an email directly at  Things get pretty busy this month so I would suggest not waiting too much longer to get your requests in, by the way.

In the spirit of the season, I am also offering a couple of suggestions here this week; a book and a CD both sent to me separately I think might interest the music lover on your list.  The first is a new book by Nicholas Soames titled The Story of Naxos, dealing of course with the budget classical music label that has redefined the classical music industry since it arrived on the musical scene back in the late 80s.

Independent record labels have come and gone all the time in my musical career that has spanned almost twenty years now, but none has managed a strangle hold on the music industry quite like Naxos has.  It began life as a label that recorded all the standard classical repertoire using primarily unknown artists looking for a big break and willing to forego the traditional contract and renumeration in favour of the Naxos model that gave you more exposure in exchange for less money.

Naxos was the brainchild of Klaus Heymann, a German businessman who simply loved classical music so much he pioneered a classical record label based in Hong Kong that brought digital recordings of classical music to the masses at affordable prices.  Initially dismissed by the classical music establishment when the label debuted in 1987, Heymann quickly showed his business and artistic acumen, recruiting artists many of whom have come to be known far and wide for the quality of their recordings for the label.  Eventually moving into opera, early music, contemporary music and more specialized repertoire, Naxos has recorded music by composers both well-known and little-known, with many world premiere recordings along the way.

Now, Naxos is probably the largest classical music label in the world and has branched out into distributing other labels' recordings as well, from Collegium and Chandos to many smaller outfits that otherwise would get no distribution whatsoever.  I have found in my years selling classical music the label has gone from simply providing a number of recordings at an attractive price-point of under $10 initially to a music powerhouse it is impossible to ignore.  The price has gone up over the years, of course, but the Naxos label is still very attractively priced and very comprehensive in what they offer in the marketplace.

Heymann at 75 is still at the helm of the company 25 years after he started it, and I can only hope there is a succession plan in place at Naxos for when the inevitable happens and Heymann cannot or doesn't want to lead the company any more.  All his trials and tribulations, triumphs and pioneering efforts are all described in vivid detail in this new book written by Nicolas Soames, a former classical music and judo journalist, which is a rather odd combination I am sure you'll agree.  For the past 18 years Soames has run the Naxos Audiobooks division, providing spoken word recordings of literary classics from Homer and Dante to James Joyce and many more.

The book is a good read and will be most welcome under the tree by any classical music lover on your list.  While I don't offer books for sale through A Web of Fine Music, I could certainly get you a copy of this one in time for Christmas gift-giving if you are at all interested.

The CD I wanted to spotlight this week is actually a two-disc set of Haydn String Quartets, Op. 22 with the Eybler Quartet on the Analekta label, which incidentally is also distributed by Naxos!  The Eybler Quartet is made up of Alsslinn Nosky and Julia Wedman on violins, Patrick Jordan on viola and Margaret Gay on violoncello.  Based in Toronto and playing on instruments appropriate to the period of the music it performs, the group has a passion for exploring string quartet repertoire of the past century and a half, including lesser-known composers such as their namesake, Joseph Leopold Edler von Eybler.

Their last recording on Analekta featuring music by Mozart and Backofen was released a couple of years ago and I still vividly remember attending a CD release party for it at the Robertson Hall on Church Street.  The music was quite simply exquisite on that disc, with the Backofen being of particular interest due to the relative lack of recordings of Backofen's music in circulation today.

No such problem here on this brand-new two-disc set of the String Quartets of Haydn, Op. 33.  The set of six string quartets date from the summer and early autumn of 1781, with the first documented performance of the quartets in the chambers of the Russian Grand Duke Paul (later Tsar Paul I), to whom the works are dedicated and thus lending them the popular nickname the "Russian" Quartets.

The sound on this set is wonderfully warm and expressive and the Eybler Quartet have produced a fine new recording of these quartets for modern audiences on period instruments.  There is a vivaciousness to the music and the playing here that is infectious, and you can't help but smile when you listen to the set.  I find if I put it on while writing or reading, the Op. 33 Quartets provide a lovely backdrop to what I am doing.  Listening more intently with the music front and centre increases the rewards considerably.

The Eybler Quartet's 2-CD set of the Haydn String Quartets, Op. 33 is available now through A Web of Fine Music and yes, there is still time to get your copy before Christmas if you hurry.  You might even want to make one copy a gift and keep one for yourself!

Happy listening!

December 1st, 2012.