Obituary: Count Numa Labinsky
Thursday 03 February 1994
NUMA LABINSKY believed passionately that the high arts were essential to the values of a civilised society - without their proper cultivation we move perilously towards barbarism. He held moreover that technology should serve the arts and he devoted his life to the creation of a communications company, Nimbus, which put this belief into practice.
Born of Russian and French parents, he was brought up by the Jesuits in France and he started to sing at an early age. His teachers included Ninon Vallin (with whom he recorded duets), Reynaldo Hahn and Joy McArden. He came to Britain during the war and pursued a singing career in public until 1960, when he withdrew from the stage. In 1951 he met the electrical engineer Michael Reynolds and, having settled in Birmingham, they devoted the 1960s to the preparation of a recording company. In this venture they were joined by Michael's younger brother, Gerald, a trained architect. A recording studio was built in Birmingham and Nimbus Records was launched in 1971 when the first recordings were made.
The aim of the company was to discover young artists and to rehabilitate older figures who were largely forgotten. The pianist Martin Jones and the composer George Benjamin are good examples of the former while the recorded legacies of Vlado Perlemuter, Youra Guller, Hugues Cuenod and Shura Cherkassky are now thought of as legendary. This proves the validity of Labinsky's view that recording was the most remarkable form of 'time-travel' and in recent years this led to the transferring to CD of historical 78rpm recordings of the great singers of the first half of the century. The Prima Voce series is eloquent testimony too to Labinsky's love of the human voice and his belief that the vocal traditions of a golden age were being eroded in our own.
Even though he could be said to have sacrificed his own singing career so that he could further the careers of other performers, his own recordings (under the name Shura Gehrman) are a legacy for future generations. His insistence upon impeccable method and honesty to the spirit of the poetic text gives his interpretations of Schubert's great song-cycles and the French repertoire in particular a remarkable resonance and he was recently saluted by the distinguished novelist and philosopher Colin Wilson as 'one of the greatest Lieder singers of this century'.
In 1975 the company moved to Wyastone Leys, near the Welsh border in Monmouth, in order to develop the pressing of high-quality vinyl LPs. From this came 'direct-to-disc' LPs in which form Bernard Roberts recorded a complete cycle of Beethoven's Sonatas for piano. Labinsky possessed remarkable commercial foresight and by the mid-1980s Nimbus had developed its own CD manufacturing plant and was the first company internationally to abandon the LP in favour of the new format. His belief that sound alone has a limited future led most recently to the revolutionary development of Video-CD and his scientific quest triggered technological advances which point well into the next century.
But he thought of himself first and foremost as an artist - a singer (in both bass and alto register), published poet, painter, writer and catalyst. His dream was the creation of a haven for the high arts in the form of the Nimbus Foundation. Its 550-seat concert hall in the grounds of the Wyastone Leys estate was opened in May last year and stands as eloquent testimony to the fulfilment of this dream - another legacy for future generations.
Numa Labinsky's warm humanity enabled him to gather around him a devoted team of like-minded spirits dedicated to the realisation of his unswervingly held ideals. Any encounter with him was memorable and enriching and he will be remembered by his countless friends and colleagues as much for his profundity, strength and temper as for his impish sense of mischief and above all his unselfish love and care.
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