[Edit 2012-06-20 00.03: This post is now a little out of date and Passionato no longer exists at all as a download store. See my March 2012 roundup of download stores for more information.]
[Edit 2011-09-21 19.45: Please see the comment / explanation posted by Passionato President James Glicker at the end of this post.]
I like to download music. Somewhat atypically, however, I do so legally and that is hard. In fairness, with the likes of Apple's iTunes it's fairly easy if you don't mind about quality, but if you want something that sounds at least as good as a CD then good luck to you. This is a subject I've moaned about before, though there are some, such as Linn Records, who do it well. The Classical Shop is more mixed and in some ways has actually got worse since I last wrote about them - their download manager (mandatory) locks up your browser completely and the tagging on the last thing I bought (Louis Lortie's Beethoven sonatas) was a total mess, with discs wrongly numbered and tracks incorrectly titled.
Passionato, which launched about three years ago, should have been a winner; but it wasn't. For one thing, huge swathes of their catalogue was available only in MP3. Some Universal stuff has recently started to appear in lossless FLAC but this is still patchy and not a unique selling point since DG and Decca's own web stores have virtually their entire catalogue in FLAC (save, bafflingly, a few recent issues). However, one of its biggest selling points is that it is the only place I'm aware of where you can get EMI Classics as CD quality downloads.
Or, rather, was the only place you could get them. A little over a week ago I received a tweet from @meltsheep expressing confusion that he could find no Klemperer downloads there. This immediately struck me as odd since sitting in Songbird just now I have two Klemperer recordings I purchased from Passionato earlier this year (a Brahms Requiem and a Tchiakovksy 6th). But a quick search of their site proved him right.
Well, there is one result but it is not for Otto Klemperer (the disc of Gurrelieder pictured above features his son Werner). I should say at this point that I'm accessing the site from the UK, so overseas there may be different results. However, it still begged the question: where's Klemperer? And, it soon transpired, not just Klemperer. A few more searches turned up nothing but Universal discs (DG, Decca and Philips). I tried a different tack; after all, the site proudly bears the legend that its range includes EMI and BIS too "with more being added all the time":
Clicking on EMI I tried a label search but found nothing:
The same is true of BIS:
Indeed, try as I might, I can locate nothing non-Universal. But this doesn't appear to be a simple culling of labels. A look at the front page reveals the top rated list and the featured staff picks feature BIS, EMI and Chandos:
Yet click through on any one of these and you will find it is not available:
What about the "thousands of great special offers" that greet you loudly on the front page?
Alas, they are invisible:
If the labels have simply been dropped, even if it is only a temporary rights issue, why keep them on the front page? How can the top sellers all be unavailable? Why does clicking on 'special offers' bring up a blank screen? No, this is a store that looks dead.
And it isn't just the store. I queried their vanishing catalogue via twitter, but nobody at Passionato's account was answering. Indeed, it has been inactive since 21st July, their Facebook page since 4th January. A wall post on 14th August from a customer who appears to be wondering the same thing as me has also gone unanswered. Last Wednesday I dropped them an e-mail. But answer came there none. I tried to contact EMI too, but their contact us page in the UK gives nothing but a postal address. I know some record labels want to pretend the last few decades didn't happen, but even by those low standards this is impressive.
If the store is dead it isn't the end of the world. Universal is well served by its own stores. Chandos and many other independents are available via The Classical Shop (though it is flawed). BIS may have deserted because of eClassical (which has a lot of overlap with The Classical Shop, but is predominantly BIS and seems better priced and a better user experience). But what of EMI? There appears to be no legitimate avenue, which is a great shame.
Of course, it could all be a misunderstanding - we'd love to hear from Passionato about what is going on, or from EMI about where we can buy their music as lossless downloads. I shall not be holding my breath though.