Sunday, July 25, 2021

In an era when CDs have already died a painful death, I keep adding to my collection

About 10 years ago, I started getting into classical music. Like, really getting into classical music. To the point that I listen to something from the classical repertoire every day almost without fail.

If you don't grow up with it and/or don't play an orchestral instrument, classical is a genre that takes some getting used to. You don't just wake up one day with a full appreciation for its beauty, emotional depth, and technical genius.

I still don't fully have this appreciation myself, though my knowledge of the music has grown by leaps and bounds over a decade of constant listening.

I'm a Cleveland Orchestra subscriber and a frequent listener of our local classical station (the wonderful WCLV 104.9 FM), but most of my engagement has come through the music I have stored on my phone.

Virtually all of it is taken from CDs I've bought over the years. "So then," you might say, "can't you just as easily access all of these symphonies, concertos, and sonatas via Spotify or Apple Music? Why keep buying CDs from which you're just going to rip the music anyway?"

The answer is that, yes, you can access any given classical piece on a streaming service, but interpretation of these works varies widely. You would be shocked to hear how different something as familiar as Beethoven's 5th Symphony sounds from one orchestra to the next, depending on the conductor's choice of tempo, dynamics, phrasing, etc.

Accordingly, there are particular recordings of popular classical works that are considered to be "the best," and a great many of them are only available on older CDs and not on any streaming service.

I don't yet know enough to figure out what's "best," what's "good," and what's just plain "mediocre." So I rely on a book I purchased several years ago titled "The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection" by Ted Libbey.

The book was first published during the heart of the CD era (1994), and it provides a list of what Libbey refers to as "the 350 essential works."

My goal is to obtain all 350 of these CDs. Right now I have a little more than 200 of them. I order them one at a time, usually from Amazon. When the disc arrives, I use iTunes to export it into my music library. Then the CD itself gets put away in a plastic storage bin in our basement.

At this rate, I have at least five more years before I get my hands on the full 350 discs, particularly as some of Libbey's recommended recordings are hard to find or wildly expensive. But I do plan to get there.

Still, if you're interested in getting a huge head start on building your own classical library and can fit a couple of large storage bins full of CDs into your house, boy do I have a deal for you...

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