Music critic's book is pulped as Penguin loses defamation case

For years the critic Norman Lebrecht bestrode the classical music world inspiring fear, loathing and respect in those whose careers he could push out of joint with a few acerbic words from his pen or over the airwaves on his Radio 3 programme.

Now, however, Lebrecht faces a fall from grace after losing a defamation battle with the head of Naxos, the largest independent classical record label, Klaus Heymann.

This week Penguin agreed to pulp all copies of Lebrecht's book, which criticised Mr Heymann.

Behind the scenes the victory has been greeted with glee by figures in the classical music world who have yearned for Lebrecht's wings to be clipped.

The book Maestros, Masterpieces and Madness: The Secret Life and Shameful Death of the Classical Record Industry, accused Mr Heymann of paying eastern European musicians a pittance, while using the proceeds to build an estate in New Zealand. It also claimed Mr Heymann fired artists who asked for better terms.

Naxos, which sells classical music CDs for less than £10, has been criticised in the past for poor-quality recordings and the use of cheap musicians. On the other hand, it has been praised for bringing classical music to the masses.

My Heymann said that the five pages on Naxos contained 15-20 errors, four of which were libellous.

In the High Court this week Penguin capitulated. A statement said: "Penguin Books accepts that there is nothing whatsoever behind any suggestion of business malpractice on the part of Mr Heymann." It also apologised and agreed to pay damages.

The agreement, however, does not affect the US publication of the book by Random House. Mr Heymann said yesterday that he will seek its withdrawal there as well.

"The book made me look like a shit, so something had to be done," he said. "When Lebrecht talks to people he doesn't take notes so he confuses and confounds what people say."

Lebrecht – who won the Whitbread first book award in 2002 for his novel The Song of Names – is regarded as a gifted writer but has been known to make errors.

His polemics on the music industry have also made him many enemies, which is why this humiliation has been met with glee. Such is his power as a critic that few are willing to speak publicly against him.

One of the world's leading conductors, however, told the IoS that Mr Lebrecht has, "for years, been getting away with "pompous, preposterous judgment" and "inept research".

Lebrecht said he could not comment on the Naxos case, but added: "The book contains a handful of minor errors, as most books do. They are being corrected."

He also denied not taking notes or confusing his facts.

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