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This is a year of birthday celebrations for Klaus Heymann as 20 years ago he founded Naxos Records.

With a catalogue of 3700 albums, he admits the company doesn't break even on 75 per cent of the CDs, although the success of both the Naxos Music Library and the Classics On Line download site more than compensates.

"The library is our fastest growing business and reaches all the opinion makers," says the German-born Hong Kong resident, who also has a "holiday home" in Auckland. "All the major universities and orchestra managements subscribe; you reach a very select, powerful audience and it's very useful for New Zealand music."

Naxos has been showcasing our artists such as conductor Uwe Grodd whose CD of Ries piano concertos was a best-seller.

"People are tired of listening to the same stuff all over again," Heymann asserts. "Ries has colourful titles for his concertos and it's enjoyable music, somewhere between Chopin and Hummel, with a little touch of Beethoven."

Heymann is sometimes self-effacing in expressing musical opinions, telling me how his wife, violinist Takako Nishizaki, taught him, as a young man who preferred loud, dramatic music, to appreciate nuance and good ensemble.

"I still like the sheer excitement of big sound," he laughs, "but now I look more to expressiveness and musicality."

Heymann is a shrewd businessman and points out how "luxuries" like recording complete Penderecki and Lutoslawski collections may be balanced by a 10-CD Mozart box set which sold 200,000 copies in Japan.

"People know that I have integrity as a businessman and, as our company is privately owned, I can do things that are not profitable."

This is a man who listens to the people around him. When American conductor Marin Alsop undertook her recent Brahms cycle, she was given a hand in choosing the orchestra.

"She said she would rather have the richer strings of the London Philharmonic than the more modern, streamlined, athletic sound of the London Symphony Orchestra," he explains, then smiles when I ask how a businessman must find it dealing with the more temperamental artistic community.

"There are good artists out there and we don't have to put up with nonsense," is Heymann's bottom line. "They either have common sense or are nice people, exceptionally nice in some cases."

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) is fondly described as one of Naxos' house orchestras.

"It's a good orchestra on the level of the better British orchestras like the Liverpool Philharmonic. It doesn't have a sound of its own; it is neutral so we can do Honegger, Vaughan Williams or Finnish music.

"The NZSO can play practically anything very well. Now, with [new music director] Pietari Inkinen, they are programming more things so we can plan a little bit forward."

Among projects in the pipeline are three CDs of orchestral suites from Janacek operas, arranged and conducted by Peter Breiner as well as a CD of works by New Zealander Lyell Cresswell.

This is a man whose studies in literary criticism at King's College in London has made him a stickler for "le mot juste" in everything from programme notes to business communications.

He justifies running his own complete Schubert Lieder recordings alongside those of Hyperion records. Naxos uses German-speaking singers.

"Let's say we were to put all our singers on stage alongside the Hyperion singers and let them read the poems," Heymann says with a twinkle in his eye. "Who would win? End of discussion."

He is excited by a young violinist like Tianway Yang tackling Sarasate for Naxos, but also has the highest praise for Osmo Vanska's complete Beethoven cycle on BIS Records.

"It's fantastic," he enthuses.

"Everything is well thought out, but still presented in an exciting and natural way, without being too mannered. There is always a market out there of people who want to try new things."