Richard Itter had a life-long fascination with recording and he habitually acquired professional equipment for disc and tape recording even for solely private use. From his home in Burnham he was able to receive a good signal from the BBC Wrotham transmitter, which was constructed in 1951 and began broadcasting VHF/FM on 2 May 1955. His domestic recordings from BBC transmissions (including Proms, premieres, operas, symphonies and chamber music – more than 1500 works in total), date from 1952-1996. Everything was initially recorded on magnetic tape, but up to 1955 particularly important performances were transferred to acetate disc. These fragile discs were never played and have remained in excellent condition, as have the majority of the tapes which make up the bulk of the collection. In 2014 the Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust begun to transfer this priceless archive and has put in place formal agreements with the BBC and the Musicians Union to enable the release of items from it to the public.
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Richard was among the very first private individuals in the UK to start a record label. The Lyrita imprint, which celebrated its 50th year in 2009 began at a time when recording was dominated by HMV and Decca. Richard had a sense that those companies, with their international outlook, were paying insufficient attention to the considerable wealth of mid-twentieth century British composers. Thus Lyrita was conceived from the outset with a singular focus on British music performed by British musicians.
Among the composers that were to benefit greatly from Lyrita’s attention in the early days were John Ireland and Gerald Finzi whose music often had its first recordings under Richard’s care. The label grew steadily through the 1970s adding important premieres of symphonic works and concertos by Bax, Moeran, Alwyn, Bridge, Holst, Hurlstone, Rawsthorne, Rubbra and Sterndale Bennett.
Although keenly interested in music and in recording technology Richard was happy to remain in the background. His decision to hire Decca to provide all recording, manufacturing and distribution services was practical, and significantly gave him access to Ken Wilkinson, one of the most celebrated recording engineers of the time. Richard’s determination to engage the best performers would lead to long relationships with the principal London orchestras, particularly the LPO, and to a pattern of composer conducted recordings which quickly created a unique catalogue of musical life in Britain through the 1960s-1990s.
The Lyrita label was virtually dormant in the decade 1995-2005 until a license agreement was signed with Wyastone Estate Ltd, the owners of Nimbus Records, which had previously acted as both manufacturer and distributor of Lyrita CDs. Under this agreement every Lyrita title was reissued in time to celebrate Richard’s 80th birthday. International enthusiasm for the re-releases was marked, leading Simon Heffer to comment in The Daily Telegraph:
“From the 1960s to the 1990s, those with a taste for obscure English classical composers, or for the obscure works of the well-known ones, needed only one port of call: Lyrita Records. For aficionados of the English canon the re-issue of this material is one of the great events in our musical history. It is like coming across long-buried treasure, and represents perhaps the finest exhibition our music has ever had.”
Richard was anxious to preserve his catalogue, and to ensure that it would continue. He created and endowed the Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust which since June 2012 has owned and operated the Lyrita label through its on-going license with Wyastone Estate. Two new recordings of works by British composers had already been made prior to Richard’s death, activity which will now continue under the auspices of the Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust.
Arthur Richard Itter
Born : Peterborough, 5th April 1928
Died : Burham, 1st March 2014
Lyrita Record Edition, famous for its pioneering recordings of British classical music, was the brainchild of one man, Richard Itter. Now the entire Lyrita catalogue appears on CD for the first time, including several recordings never previously issued. Lewis Foreman talks to Richard Itter, his producers, engineers and some of the musicians who made the recordings to tell the story behind this remarkable venture.
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Lyrita is distributed worldwide by Wyastone Estate Limited under an exclusive manufacturing and distribution licence.