Nicolas Soames: The Story of Naxos. The Extraordinary Story of the Independent Record Label that Changed Classical Recording For Ever. London: Piatkus, 2012. 450 pages.
I have been listening to Naxos CDs since the early 90's, so when I heard about this book I eagerly ordered it in the hope of learning more about the background and the people behind these budget-priced pearls. To be honest, the book has not really fulfilled my expectations.
For one thing, the book, written by an insider (Soames is responsible for Naxos Audio-Books), reads like a book-sized advertisement for Naxos. I suppose that is inevitable in some sense, as Naxos is the subject of the book, but I would have appreciated a more thorough and critical approach to the whole area of budget classical recording. Soames does, in fact, mention a few negative facts, concentrating mainly on the business/commercial side, but he never really comments in any detail on the criticisms of the "Naxos sound" which were, at least in the early years, not without foundation.
The first part of the book is, in a way, a biography of Klaus Heymann (with Takako Nishizaki) and does contain some information I have not come across elsewhere. This part of the book is fairly well written and occasionally contains anecdotes, which are, in my opinion, the "spices" needed to freshen up a story like this.
But the second half of the book seems to get lost in long lists of names, often reading like a literary version of the Naxos Catalogue. Of course, there are some interesting moments, but on the whole, this reads like a list of Naxos achievements. It never seems to get personal, and I found myself skipping over chunks of stuff that I, as a classical music fan, already knew from my study of the Naxos website or the blurbs of their CDs.
If you have only ever vaguely heard of Naxos, of course you will find here a fascinating story. But this book is, in my opinion, not really made for readers who are already familiar with the company's work. It reads, as I said, more like a giant advertisement and publicity campaign for outsiders who want to know more about what the company does. And of course, it does give an amazing picture of Klaus Heymann, the German businessman who started off as a tennis coach in Frankfurt and ended up, together with his Japanese violinist wife, producing thousands of CDs which have sold in their millions.