2017 sees the 25th anniversary of Divine Art Recordings Group. In fact, each of its three main branches were founded independently at almost the same time. Divine Art itself, established in north-east England in early 1992, acquired both the Athene label (founded in late 1991) and new-music vehicle Métier, also founded in 1992. After absorbing both Dunelm Records and Heritage Media, the company expanded further by opening a branch in the USA, which is now the group headquarters. 

Under the guidance of founder and CEO Stephen Sutton, Managing Partner Edna Sutton and Head of Marketing Kathryn Marshall, the company continues to follow its original ethos and mission which is to record new, rediscovered and rare music and to support the work of contemporary composers and performers. Busier than ever with its mainly artist-led projects, the group is likely to make its 500th release early in 2018.

The Divine Art label was founded in 1992 by Stephen Sutton, and was based in South Shields, in north-east England. Its first release, on cassette only, was made to raise funds for the restoration of a historic church organ in Stephen’s home village of Simonburn. At the time, because Stephen had a very busy career as a lawyer, there were no plans to make the label a commercial business.  However, in 1993 Stephen was approached by friends who played rare early and baroque music, and who wanted to make a CD.  Stephen agreed to help, and he produced and recorded the label’s first CD ‘Cantatas from the Georgian Drawing Room’ which was released in 1994.

This CD was noticed by the media, and led several artists to contact the company about recording projects. Some of these were for ensembles which had not previously made recordings, others were for internationally famous musicians who were unhappy with their existing label, and some  were co-productions, for example the company’s fourth release, by the Aberdeen Youth Choir, was a co-production with BBC Scotland.

At first, the company remained small and released only about four recordings each year.  At all times,  though it has released a small number of ‘core classical’ recordings,  the company has been mainly devoted to recording new music and rediscovered or neglected masterpieces.  Even today, with a catalogue of over 450 titles, over 80% of these contain at least one world premiere recording including major baroque discoveries such as the music of Charles Avison, John Garth and Giovanni Guido, and the piano sonatas of Baldassare Galuppi. The catalog covers the spectrum of music from the 15th century to the present day and musicians from many European countries from Ireland to Poland and Russia, from the USA, Canada and Mexico, and from Australia.

The label also has many recordings of piano transcriptions, for solo instrument and duo,  and has made the first recordings of  important works by Schubert, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Elgar, Holst, Mendelssohn and Dvořák:  sometimes in arrangements by other composers but often in the composer’s own piano duo versions which had been forgotten or neglected.  These recordings, most of which have been made by English pianists Anthony Goldstone (who sadly passed away in January 2017) and Caroline Clemmow, are always among the most popular recordings in the catalogue.

In 1994 saw the introduction of another label, Diversions. This was intended to carry lighter music, re-issues and some albums of short duration,  all at a lower price.

Diversions Records include both old and new recordings, some light music, discs made for charity, and recordings made by the Dunelm Records company from England.  Divine Art acquired Dunelm in 2008, but because Dunelm CDs were made one by one to order on CDR, they are now being re-issued on the Diversions or Metier labels.

In 2003, Divine Art acquired the label Athene Records. This company was founded by the pianist Joanna Leach towards the end of 1991. At first,  only Joanna’s own recordings of music played on historic square pianos, were made, but later the label also made recordings with pianists Peter Katin, Raymond Clarke, Bernard d’Ascoli and Andreas Boyde (on modern instruments) as well as orchestral recordings from Germany and Bulgaria.  The last of the early Athene recordings was issued in 2006 as Joanna, who was still the producer, became very ill and sadly died in 2011.

The Athene label was re-launched in 2015, and is now the Divine Art Group label for historic instruments and early music. Its first new series is ‘The Great Violins’ with British violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved, which presents many of the world’s oldest and most precious violins.

In 2005, Divine Art acquired the Métier label. Métier was founded in 1992 by producer David Lefeber, and was one of the two top labels in the UK for new music. It specializes in contemporary music from around the world with many major artists and composers,  including a special series (11 CDs so far) of the music of Michael Finnissy,  and music both relatively traditional (for example British lyrical chamber music, all new but in traditional form) to the cutting edge of avant-garde music for instruments, chamber ensembles and also vocal and choral music,  from many composers including George Crumb, Brian Ferneyhough, and so many more – Xenakis, Donatoni, Scelsi, Gorton, Rochberg and Fox. However current British music remains the primary focus.

After a brief hiatus in releases, the label was revitalized when it became part of Divine Art, and now attracts musicians from around the world.

In 2009 the company acquired Heritage Media Ltd, a producer of historic radio dramas, which was re-launched in 2010 in both digital and CD format with vintage radio dramas which are finding a very enthusiastic new audience and also being re-licensed to the BBC and broadcasters in several countries.

The company now has six main labels, distribution in many countries (since February 2013 as part of the Naxos Global Distribution network), and an ever-increasing list of new projects, but the two founding principles remain: the company looks to produce recordings of rare and unusual music of quality, and is also artist-led, trusting its artists to know their audience and their repertoire, and aiming to act as the vehicle by which they can reach out to a larger audience.

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