v/a - Factory Classical: The First 5 Albums

Factory Benelux
(FBN276: 708527220177)

60 tracks.

Factory Benelux presents a box set collection of the first five albums released by the celebrated Factory Classical imprint in 1989, featuring modern classical works composed by Benjamin Britten, Elliott Carter, Paul Hindemith, Theodore Lalliet, Gyorgy Ligeti, Steve Martland, Olivier Messiaen, Francis Poulenc, Dmitri Shostakovich and Michael Tippett.

Curated by Durutti Column viola player John Metcalfe, the performers include the Kreisler String Orchestra, German pianist Rolf Hind, The Duke Quartet and oboist Robin Williams, with Steve Martland’s material performed by Residentie Orkest Den Haag and pianists Gerard Bouwhuis and Cees Van Zeeland.

Explained Factory founder Tony Wilson: ‘The idea I had in mind was people like Peter Saville, the Factory designer, and his girlfriend - art school kids brought up with Bowie and Roxy Music, into punk, maybe they find acid house interesting, but they’re looking for something else. For people like them or younger, there is no easy way into classical music, because it’s all quite exclusive. They’re scarcely likely to read Gramophone magazine, or make head or tail of it if they did.’

'I was a relatively angry young man at that time,’ adds Metcalfe, ‘and chose to channel some of that into a rather naïve disapproval of standard classical industry practices. The white tie and tails and very, very boring, reproductions of Constable paintings on album covers, all that stuff. So I had a chat with Tony and he said, “Off you go, fill your boots”.'

Largely drowned out by relentless Acid House beats and faddish Madchester guitar rock in 1989, the bold, contrarian Factory Classical catalogue is now ripe for re-appraisal by much the same audience identified by Wilson. Indeed since 1989 Metcalfe has worked as an arranger for artists such as Peter Gabriel, U2, Blur, Coldplay and Bat for Lashes, as well as performing and recording with the Max Richter Ensemble. Sadly contemporary composer Steve Martland passed away in 2013.

The new Factory Benelux clamshell box set includes a 24 page booklet featuring the original Factory commissioned liner notes from 1989, as well as a contemporary essay by writer Stuart Huggett and an interview with Tony Wilson. Each individual CD is housed in a card wallet which reproduces the original artwork by designers Peter Saville, Trevor Key, Ben Kelly, Mark Farrow, Neville Brody and Trevor Johnson.

The 5 CDs have been newly re-mastered in 2022 by Peter Beckmann at Technology Works.

5xCD tracklist:

Disc 1: Kriesler String Orchestra 226
1-4. Benjamin Britten: Simple Symphony
Zoltan Eric: Cartoon
6-16. Benjamin Britten: Frank Bridge Variations
Johannes Brahms: Wir Wandelten
Disc 2: Robin Williams 236
1-3. Francis Poulenc: Sonata
4-9. Benjamin Britten: Six Metamorphoses
10-11. Paul Hindemith: Sonata
Theodore Lalliet: Prelude and Variations
Disc 3: Duke String Quartet 246
1-5. Dimitri Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 8 Opus 110
6-10. Michael Tippett:  String Quartet No. 3
Disc 4: Rolf Hind 256
1-6. Gyorgy Ligeti: Etudes Book 1
Steve Martland: Kgakala
Olivier Messiaen  Le courlis cendre
9-10. Elliott Carter:  Piano Sonata 9
Disc 5: Steve Martland 266
1-5. Steve Martland: Babi Yar
6-11. Steve Martland: Drill

"Vexed that classical music remained the preserve of "middle class wankers in dinner suits", Tony Wilson launched Factory Classical in 1989, with John Metcalfe - violinist for The Durutti Column, the closest thing Wilson had to a classical act - supervising A&R. Early signings included the Kreisler String Orchestra and Duke String Quartet, with whom Metcalfe fortuitously played. The former's album, focused largely on Benjamin Britten, is welcomingly romantic. Zoran Eric's "Cartoon" is more frantically intimidating, while the latter's rendition of Dimitri Shostakovich's "8th String Quartet" is less demanding than the Russian composer's reputation suggests. Robin Williams' 236 showcases the oboe's peerless melancholy with impressive technique on more Britten and, particularly, Francis Poulenc's "Oboe Sonata", but pianist Rolf Hind is more likely to provoke recollections of Morecambe and Wise's classic gag "all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order." Steve Martland's own "Babi Yar", meanwhile, is challenging, confrontational, percussive and, most of all, thrilling." (Uncut, 04/2023)

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