the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

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Classical Music

I've recently started listening to more classical music, especially piano works. I don't think I've bought any classical CDs since the 90s and I'd forgotten the hazards of doing so.

If you've bought a lot of classical music, you probably know what I mean. Sooner or later you'll start talking to an Enthusiast. You may casually declare an intention to acquire Beethoven's 5th Symphony, say. But then will come that glint in the Enthusiast's eye, and you'll get asked the question you hadn't thought needed asking: "which one?" And you sort of know that "the one with violins...?" isn't the kind of answer you ought to be giving.

Thus it is you may get your gentle introduction to buying classical music. You will learn that one does not simply march into a CD store and buy a copy of Beethoven's 5th. There are all sorts of things to decide along the way. Darned thing's been recorded hundreds of times. Which conductor? Which orchestra? Which performance? And symphonies are easy. If it's a concerto you're after, which soloist? Where and when?

And the truth is, performances really can sound very different. It's a personal thing, but choosing a 'good' performance is worth doing. Some of the best versions are going to be completely different listening experiences compared to a half-arsed rendition by the Dullsville Philharmonic on some exotic-sounding budget record label. Although sometimes the LSO recording from '97 might actually be quite crap, and the Dullsville Philharmonic might have been spectacularly on form, and they're an excellent choice assuming you're not too much of a snob.

Which to choose? In the olden days you'd either just not bother and get the cheapest version on the shelves or the one with the most interesting cover but knowing deep down that you're possibly Missing Out, or rely on word of mouth (the Enthusiast will have told you about von Karajan and that would invariably be a safe bet), or read recommendations from the thick and well-thumbed CD book that was always plonked down somewhere in the classical section of your local CD store, and maybe go through the unholy schlep of listening to a few versions in-store, which was usually such a hassle with queues and surly assistants and broken headphones that Missing Out didn't seem like such a bad option after all.

Now, the world has changed. Now, there's Spotify and YouTube. On the up side, you can actually sample the various recordings and decide which one you like most. On the down side, your choice is no longer just one of a few versions in stock on the shelves, it's closer to dozens. And it's no longer just recordings. You've also got all the live performances, and there are many, many more of them.

Like Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos? You get to hear some beautiful music, but if you're prone to getting caught up in things, you can go down a rabbit hole and not come out for months.

{2018.07.01 08:01}

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