WHEN the history of the gramophone comes to be written, one name high on the list of major influences will be Peter Wadland, who at his death was Chief Producer of Decca's early music L'Oiseau-Lyre label. He was a man of great taste and style, qualities that are evident from every disc issued on 'his' label.
His early years were spent in Antwerp and Brussels where, with the benefit of a German mother, he received a trilingual upbringing, something which set him up for life. The most important lesson he took with him from his years at King's College, Taunton, were the hours spent learning the classical repertoire in the school's record library: his love and knowledge of records was deep and extraordinarily informed.
After working for Schott & Son and for the Hansom book organisation, Wadland joined Decca as label manager of L'Oiseau-Lyre and Vox Records in 1968. In 1971, when Decca took over the label, Wadland put forward his first suggestion for a recording - renaissance duets with Anthony Rooley and James Tyler. This was followed by a disc by the remarkable Japanese percussion player Stomu Yamash'ta, a disc that not only featured specially commissioned music but also multi-tracking effects, rare in the classical record world of the day.
In 1973 Wadland dreamed up the Florilegium series, to a large extent the British equivalent of the German Archiv label. A chance meeting with Christopher Hogwood led to the foundation of the Academy of Ancient Music, and one of the most successful recording partnerships of the post- war years. The complete cycle of the Mozart symphonies launched in the late 1970s broke new ground in performance practice and in developing a new audience for baroque and classical music. Since then, the same performers have recorded all the Beethoven symphonies and concertos (with Steven Lubin) as well as embarking on a cycle of the complete Haydn symphonies (a project Wadland launched but sadly had to pass to colleagues).
Other artists received the care and attention Wadland devoted to the L'Oiseau-Lyre label: Malcolm Binns recorded all the Beethoven piano sonatas on a variety of period instruments; Simon Preston and the Choir of Christ Church, Oxford, made a number of discs; Hogwood with many celebrated early music performers recorded a huge set of Purcell's theatre music and The Consort of Musicke and Anthony Rooley made countless discs for the label.
L'Oiseau-Lyre played host to many of today's leading artists: Emma Kirkby, Philip Pickett and the New London Consort, Catherine Bott, Christophe Coin, James Bowman, Simon Standage, Christophe Rousset, Joshua Rifkin, John Mark Ainsley, David Thomas and the Amadeus Winds. Wadland was a perfectionist, involving himself in every aspect of the recordings he made, from chosing the cover illustration to proof-reading the notes. (He worked with 'mainstream' Decca artists, too, overseeing the Fitzwilliam Quartet's award-winning Shostakovich quartet series as well as assisting on a number of productions with Sutherland and Pavarotti.)
But early music was not the music you would hear at Wadland's house. Pianists of the old school - Lhevinne, Moriz Rosenthal, Josef Hofmann, Horowitz, Bolet and Cherkassky (the last two artists he worked with at Decca, coaxing some memorable interpretations on to disc) - were his greatest enthusiasm. As were the singers of generations past: he adored Luisa Tetrazzini but above all it was Jussi Bjorling who appealed to his sense of style and ease of technique.
Peter Wadland was a great host - his house in Camden was always home to musicians passing through London - and an inspired cook (his repertoire as questing as the programmes he assembled on record), a fine photographer and an inveterate traveller. He will be missed for his dynamism, humour and, above all, for his remarkable natural musicianship.Reuse content