Buying CDs – How I collect

13 Apr

I was listening to CD Review on Radio 3 last Saturday and they were talking about Decca’s new celebration of Pavarotti – 11 operas, the Verdi Requiem and three recitals on 27 CDs. One of the presenters asked who would buy it, given that most fans of Pavarotti would have the operas anyway. I’ve heard this question asked before in respect of the increasing number of large compilation sets that are coming on the market – a few weeks ago they were asking the same question about the DG complete Richard Strauss set.

Of course, to an extent he’s right.  This set includes the recordings with Sutherland of Lucia, Elisir, Puritani, Fille du Régiment, Rigoletto and Turandot, together with the Karajan Boheme and Butterfly.  You’d have to be quite a determined Pavarotti-avoider not to have at least a couple of these in your collection and serious Pavarotti and Sutherland fans probably will indeed have the majority.  But the rest of us may not and I tend to feel that it’s for the likes of me – the haphazard collector – that sets like this were created.

My collection of CDs has grown eccentrically and I suspect this is true of many collectors.  I started, to show my age, with LPs when I was in my early teens and the collection grew from a mixture of Christmas and birthday presents or odd ones that I could pick up with pocket money.  My parents tended to buy with an eye to price rather than reputation – I still have quite a lot of the early 1950s Cetra recordings which nobody would name, even when they came out, as first choice recordings, but which did. As I got more discriminating, or started to read more, I became more demanding – if they were going to get me a Don Carlos, could it please be the Giulini and, if Norma, it had to be Callas (I wasn’t prescriptive about which).  But it was not methodical: I did not have a pre-planned pattern of recordings that I meant to buy or singers that I had to collect.

And when CDs came along, I did not necessarily want to duplicate my LP collection.  If I had the Giulini Giovanni, Figaro and Trovatore on LP, why get the operas on CD, even in different performances, when I still didn’t have all of the core repertory and there were attractive things, such as the Gardiner Les Brigands, coming out freshly?  This view didn’t last long as the advantages of CDs in terms of life and shelf-space became apparent – but my buying was haphazardagain, often depending on what was on offer at the Music Discount Centre or what struck me as particularly desirable.  And it was informed by a view that preferred Callas to Sutherland, Muti or Serafin to Bonynge, Domingo to Pavarotti, Carlos Kleiber or Giulini to almost everyone – unless Simon Keenlyside or Thomas Allen happened to be in the cast.

And then I began to prove to myself that collections don’t stop.  Don Carlos was the case in point.  My partner had arrived with the Solti recording (which I now prefer to the Giulini) but you clearly also need one in French – there was just the Abbado at the time when I bought it.  And then Pappano came along. And then the Opera Rara reissue of the BBC broadcast (really good) and I realised that I also wanted to have Christoff and Gobbi in the opera.  And then the Chandos version in English was a nice souvenir of the Opera North version. And then there were seven.

Then, of course, I like Mackerras in Mozart and so his Teldec recording of Figaro seemed a good choice.  But then Jacobs came along with Simon Keenlyside and rave reviews.  And then came one of those huge boxes of Colin Davis conducting.  And then the Gardiner series came along at a ridiculously cheap price, so I had to get that.  And, of course, there’s still the Busch Glyndebourne recording, and the Gui…

So what these huge sets do is to give me a chance to enjoy hear recordings that I don’t own  and to learn more.  And I reckon that, if I happen to have the odd duplicate, it’s probably worth it. When I’m  listening to opera I’m not just listening to the work, I’m listening to the interpreters and the joy is having access to lots of them. It’s also remarkable have few perfect recordings there are – in the 1970s and before reviewers often wanted to take individuals from two recordings and fuse them together. That’s pointless – but you can, in the course of your collecting lifetime grow up a collection to enable you to have both Callas and Sutherland in their duplicate roles, together with Tebaldi, Scotto, Caballé and Price.  And why not?

So I think I’m the person at which these huge boxes are aimed at. The Davis set introduced me to his Cosi fan tutte and the joy of Baker and Caballé as the women.  In the last year I’ve gained a lot of pleasure from exploring two huge boxes of Verdi from Decca and EMI – comparing the Muti and Levine Vespri, getting Jon Vickers as Otello, discovering the marvellous Mehta/Nilsson/Corelli Aida, getting back some old friends from LP days (the Gobbi Falstaff and the Merrill/Solti Rigoletto).  It’s fun sampling them and having the luxury of thinking whether I want to hear Rameyand Zancanaro or Raimondi and Milnes doing the duet from Attila.

And so to the Pavarotti set.  I only possessed two of the recordings included – Fille du Regiment and Turandot – and I’ve been having a lovely time over the last few days rapidly revising all my prejudices.  Is there a better Duke of Mantua on disc? – I’ve always been a Kraus fan, but Pavarotti is even more beguiling.  I still probably prefer Gobbi and Callas in the other roles, but it’s a pretty close run thing.  I really enjoy the Muti/Caballé/Kraus Puritani but I have to admit that, even if Muti conducts better, Sutherland and Pavarotti are very special indeed.  I’ve rediscovered Beatrice di Tenda and, while I probably just prefer Callas in Lucia with Bernstein, I have to admit that Sutherland and Pavarotti are pretty marvellous – and the sound is better.  And I paid £50 for it on Ebay – and can probably make something from selling on my duplicates.  That’s just over a fiver per opera.

So, if you’re like me, you could do a lot worse than get this – though it’s a bad size for your CD shelves.  It may not leave your other CDs in the cold, but I found myself succumbing to all that I’ve heard and I know the set won’t be far from my CD player.

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