Download revolution hits a classical note

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Downloading propelled Snow Patrol and Gnarls Barkley back into the charts this week and helped to make the X Factor winner Leona Lewis a star.

But now performers including Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, Billie Holliday and John Coltrane are set to join the digital revolution as Universal Music launches the world's largest download site for classical and jazz music. More than 125,000 tracks from nearly 8,000 albums have been made available.

The label is offering its music at what it claims is twice the quality of files available from Apple's download site, iTunes. And the site will be easily navigable by composer as well as artist. The downside is that the site is not compatible with iPods, made by Apple, which have cornered 90 per cent of the MP3 market. But some music experts believe that may not matter to classical music buffs, who are simply happy to download to their computer.

James Jolly, of Gramophone magazine, said: "I think it's great to have a new download store of this depth and breadth aimed specifically at the jazz and classical music-lover that offers major company recordings and provides some competition for Apple and its iPod."

Downloading of classical albums jumped by more than 1,000 per cent last year, while jazz downloads were up 900 per cent, despite complaints about the quality of files and inadequate search engines.

Mark Wilkinson, general manager of Universal Music Classics and Jazz, said its new site would be making "a positive contribution" to its business by the second half of this year.

Nicola Benedetti, the 19-year-old Scottish violinist, said: "I've been living with a family with three young children and they're more likely to download than to go and buy an album."

Among the artists whose music will be available are Renée Fleming, Sir Georg Solti, Leonard Bernstein, Bryn Terfel, Diane Krall, Charlie Parker, Ray Charles and Astrud Gilberto. Prices start at 79p a track, with a typical album costing £7.90.