To use the term ‘Classical’ is indeed a very broad one – we could be talking about the Renaissance lutenist John Dowland, the outstanding works of Brazilian guitarist Heitor Villa Lobos or the virtuosic performances of Johanna Martzy. However, when we are talking about collectable classical records, there is quite a narrow band (or wide band!) of works that collectors are willing to pay top buck for, though when you do see these titles they can realise astronomical sums of money!
As a rather simple way to gauge if you are sitting on a high value classical record, we are looking at the following:
Many of the desirable classical records are typically UK issued and were recorded in stereo – Decca (SXL series) Columbia (SAX series), HMV (ASD series), RCA (often the ‘Living Stereo’ series) and Philips (SBL series) all produced high quality stereophonic recordings from the mid-1950s onwards. However, just because you have a ‘Decca SXL’ it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can go on holiday! If we take Decca as an example, collectors are usually looking for the first edition (ED1) which will usually carry ‘Original Recording By’ on the label. Later issues may be referred to as ED2’s (‘Made In England’ text) or ED3’s and ED4’s (issued with a ‘narrow band’). Even here though there can be subtle differences within the pressings such as the ‘ED0’ or ‘pancake press’ which contains the ‘Original Recording By’ text however the groove runs on the outer perimeter of the label instead of the inner – you can see that you can open a can of worms! It should be noted though that using UK issued records as being the most expensive is not necessarily true; one of the ‘holy grails’ from the classical world is ‘Mozart A Paris, The Complete Parisian Mozart Compositions’ that was released in tiny numbers in a luxurious package on French label Pathé – a clean copy of this can fetch £9,000.
Though it sounds simple, the performer is crucial when we’re looking at high value classical titles. Perhaps most sought after are the virtuoso string musicians from the 20th Century, names to look out for include Leonid Kogan, David Oistrakh, Johanna Martzy, Ruggiero Ricci, Michael Rabin, Jacqueline Du Pre, Ida Haendel, Alfredo Campoli, Nathan Milstein, Arthur Grumiaux and Christian Ferras. Other notable (non-string) performers include Kurt Leimer (pianist), conductors George Szell, John Barbirolli, Otto Klemperer, Rafael Kubelik, Georg Solti and Lorin Maazel, Vladimir Ashkenazy (pianist), Claudio Arrau (pianist) and Victoria De Los Angeles (soprano).