Melba Recordings

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Letter to The Australian April 14 from MICHAEL QUINN, Ireland, former Deputy Editor Gramophone UK

Friday, 13 April 2012 - 10:00pm


Matthew Westwood’s story on the “storm” breaking over the future of Melba Recordings (April 3) made for interesting reading on several accounts.

Looking in on the Australian classical scene from the distant perspective of a European journalist, I have watched the emergence of Melba Recordings onto the international stage with astonishment and admiration over the past decade, first as Deputy Editor of Gramophone magazine and currently as Associate Editor of the American-based, internationally-focussed website,

Over the past two decades and more of my career, no other Australian classical music label has come close to achieving the international profile Melba has. It has done so by championing Australian musicians, orchestras and composers in a way that its competitors, to be blunt, have failed to do.

Comparing Melba with Tall Poppies and Move, let alone with ABC Classics, is not comparing like with like. ABC’s 23 releases last year were largely “greatest hits” compilations churned out with industrial disinterest to a lowest-common-denominator audience. (That’s not a criticism, merely an observation.)

Tall Poppies and Move may have released more recordings than Melba, but the brutal question remains: what impact have they made on behalf of Australia’s classical music industry with pundits and public alike internationally? The truth is, very little. In marked contrast to the profile of Melba Recordings abroad.

Why didn’t Tall Poppies or Move step into produce the historic recording of Wagner’s Ring Cycle – the first ever staged in Australia, and the first to be released in state of the art SACD sound? Why, for that matter, didn’t the hugely state-funded ABC commit to recording for posterity this high-water mark in Australian classical music? Why was it left to Melba to do so?

The truth is that comparing Melba Recordings with other Australian labels is not comparing like with like. From an international perspective, it is the only Australian classical label to have had the courage, the imagination, and the muscle to argue for – and succeed – in placing Australia’s classical artists alongside their more venerable European and American counterparts.

To describe Melba as a “niche” label is to miss a salient if uncomfortable point: all classical music labels, irrespective of their country of origin or volume of releases, are “niche”. In terms of the global recorded music market, classical music accounts for a single-figure percentage of all sales. In that regard, it is undeniably “niche” – certainly compared to the sales and reach of that ubiquitous behemoth, pop music.

But, it illustrates something about what makes Melba different from its competitors – and deserving of continued government support at home – to note that in the last two years a Melba recording has featured in the ‘Best of Year’ lists published by my website. In all that time, I have received no contact or discs for consideration from review from any other Australian classical label.

Melba is an Australian success story. Letting it collapse just as it is getting into its stride, should not, surely, be an option.


Michael Quinn