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iTunes Essentials:Classical hailed as breakthrough

- 15 February 2013

The first week of iTunes’ Essentials:Classical campaign has been hailed by recording companies as a dramatic success not only in converting classical collectors to downloaders but also in opening up new markets.

‘This has been a real breakthrough in the digital download market,’ said Barry Holden, head of classical archive at Universal Music Group. ‘I cannot think of a bigger single-week breakthrough.’

Essentials:Classical comprises 30 works selected by iTunes, remastered to a higher than usual audio standard and featured on the home page of all the Apple-owned retailer’s global websites. Mr Holden said several titles rocketed not just to the top of classical charts in several countries but also to the upper echelons of iTunes’ overall music sales.

Even more impressive, he said, was the global reach of Essential:Classical. In December, iTunes added 56 countries to its outlets, bringing the total to 119. Universal, the recording industry market leader, has distribution in about 60 markets. Essentials:Classical titles topped the overall music charts in several countries that classical labels have found hard to penetrate, such as Russia, Argentina, Colombia and Turkey.

Steve Smith, co-founder of Gimell Records – whose recording of Allegri works performed by the Tallis Scholars is among the 30 – described the remastering as ‘a game-changer’. He added: ‘I found that the quality of Mastered for iTunes is close to that of studio masters recorded at 48kHz and yet the files are around 80% smaller and remain ideal for iPods and other portable players. I predict Mastered for iTunes will hasten the end of classical music on compact disc.’

Thirteen of the 30 titles were from Universal – nine from Deutsche Grammophon and four from Decca – but the list spanned a wide variety of works and labels. While rising star Janine Jansen’s account of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons was the top seller, Arthur Rubinstein’s vintage Chopin Nocturnes on RCA claimed number two spot and featured highly on several pop charts, followed by Karajan conducting Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 for DG. Also among the 30 are Handel’s Messiah from The Sixteen’s label Coro, the Bach Brandenburg concertos on France’s Naïve and Glen Gould’s classic version of the Goldberg Variations on Sony, and Philip Glass’s Symphony No 8 on the Orange Mountain label.

Mr Holden said Universal is now using Cyrillic script for the covers of its download offers in Russia, Japanese and Chinese characters for sleeves in those countries – optimising the prospects for hits from buyers using search engines in those languages.

He added: ‘iTunes is talking in terms of long-term commitment to featuring the range on its masthead. We are very pleased with it so far.’

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