August 11, 2007 / 1:56 AM / 12 years ago

Classical labels line up PBS-friendly crossover fare

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Fall is always a big time for classical crossover releases, and the incoming class of 2007 is no exception.

Once again, labels are largely counting on the reliable combo of name recognition and prime PBS placement to drive sales and, they hope, shake such household names as Josh Groban and Il Divo from their perches atop the chart. And once again, the aesthetic lines between the “traditional classical” and “classical crossover” categories are fairly blurry: It’s all down to sales and marketing angles.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s latest foray into global terrain with his Silk Road Ensemble (and joined this time by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya) is the sumptuous-sounding and teasingly titled “New Impossibilities” (Sony Classical, July 31).

His new labelmate, American baritone/fan crush favorite Nathan Gunn, has a first Sony Classical disc, “Just Before Sunrise” (August 7), which aims to entice an audience that probably would never venture into an opera house. Selections include tunes by Sting, Tom Waits and Billy Joel.

The other heavyweight imprint at Sony BMG Masterworks, RCA Red Seal, sees the return of piano-playing quintet the 5 Browns October 2 with “Browns in Blue.” The album showcases the music of Gershwin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Piazzolla and W.C. Handy, among others.

‘WAR’ MUSIC

Film and TV tie-ins also loom large at Sony BMG Masterworks this season. Among them: “Songs Without Words,” a September 11 release linked to filmmaker Ken Burns’ newest series, the World War II-focused “The War.” Revisiting some of the industry’s biggest soundtrack successes, Sony Classical is also issuing “Star Wars: A New Hope” (October 2), a set of “Star Wars” soundtracks featuring their original jackets just in time for the 30th anniversary of the first film in the series. The label also will release “Star Wars Corellian Edition,” a compilation of music from all six films.

Surprisingly, Decca — which has established itself as a major driver in the classical crossover market — is hanging back this season, with only one release in this genre: an Andrea Bocelli greatest-hits compilation that hits the street October 30. (The title has not yet been announced.)

Singer Sissel has moved from Decca to Savoy Label Group’s Denon imprint to release the CD/DVD “Northern Lights” (November 6), featuring tenor Jose Carreras. The project coincides with a December PBS pledge special shot in her native Norway.

Denon’s superstar artist, violinist Andre Rieu, whose shows are a PBS fund-drive staple, returns September 1 with a “Live From Radio City Music Hall” CD and DVD (as well as a CD/DVD combo with exclusive video). (Full disclosure: This reporter is married to an executive at SLG/Denon.)

Another key CD and DVD release timed to PBS’ December drive is the English boy choir Libera’s “Angel Voices” (EMI Classics, October 2). Its TV special begins airing in November and continues into pledge season. The youngsters will tour the United States in the spring.

Peeking ahead into the new year, EMI Classics will release something of a meta-album. Pianist John Bayless’ “Circle of Life” (January 15) tackles the music of fellow piano player Elton John, transforming such hits as “Tiny Dancer” and “Candle in the Wind” in virtuosic new arrangements.

Reuters/Billboard

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