THE AGONIES OF CHOOSING A CD TO PLAY by Hugh Mather

Hugh has kindly allowed me to reproduce this most interesting article from his own blog at hmather@btopenworld.com Do respond if you can


Many readers will recall the excellent feature entitled ‘Too many records’ which used to feature in the much-lamented ‘International Record Review’ magazine.  I suspect the title strikes a chord with many of us.  I suppose I have about 2000 CDs and 1500 LPs, as well as about 300 opera and music DVDs.   This is a far cry from when I was a boy in the 1950’s, when I had about 20 precious LPs.   In those days I spent whole weeks playing them over and over again, until I could almost sing my way through the entire works.   The performances have lived with me ever since – Menuhin playing the Beethoven and Mendelssohn concertos, Milstein playing the Tchaikovsky, Gilels the Emperor, Solomon playing Beethoven 3 etc.

Fast forward to the present, and I have this huge over-accumulation of ‘canned’ music.  The chance of any single CD being played is infinitesimally small, and each new CD reduces it even further.   My LPs actually sound slightly better than the CDs, if one can ignore the clicks and plops and the suspicion of a slight ‘wobble’ from a warped disc, whether real or imagined. However the physical side of getting the record out of its sleeve and putting it on is a deterrent, so I rarely bother.   And when I decide to play a CD, I go to the shelves and try to select one of the 2000.   That’s when the problems start !   There is simply too much choice.

My CDs are arranged alphabetically – so do I go for some Bach, from the top shelf ?   If so what ?  And if a particular piece, which of the versions do I choose ? It reminds me of a child in a massive toy or sweet shop – there are so many ‘goodies’ that the act of choosing just one of them induces a sort of paralysis.   Or how about some Beethoven ?   How about say one of the symphonies ?   But I have about 6 sets – which shall I choose ?   How about Karajan – or Klemperer – or Haitink – or Colin Davis – or Barenboim – or Walter ?    (Obviously I will give period instrument performances a miss !)     And then which symphony shall I choose ?  Or how about a Beethoven piano sonata ?  But which particular sonata and which of my current 10 sets (ie 320 sonatas), will I listen to ?  Somehow the choice seems inordinately difficult and paralyzing – because of the over-abundance on offer !   After 5 minutes of this agonizing and painful indecision, verging on mental torture, I usually give up completely and see what’s on Radio 3 or Classic FM – or the telly !

I don’t think I am alone in having these problems.   Some people transfer all their CDs to a hard disk, but that doesn’t solve the problem of having to choose something to play, and which performance.   Those who use Spotify or other streaming service will have a similar problem.   I heard a neat solution described on the radio years ago by the late Norman Del Mar, the well-known conductor.  He stated (as I recall) that he had numbered all his recordings, and had devised some method of producing a random order of numbers.  Then he forced himself to stick to this order of CDs (or LPs) to be played.   I think I will have to survive long enough to receive the Queen’s telegram to achieve this with my current collection !  An alternative, which most readers will choose, is to surrender oneself to the choices of radio presenters – and be either irritated or pleasantly surprised, either by the pieces or the performers they choose.  And so my CDs will remain unplayed, on the shelf.

So the chances of any CDs being actually played is very small.   Paradoxically this doesn’t stop me reading all the CD magazines (particularly Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine) from cover to cover, and salivating over the prospect of buying yet more CDs, particularly those tempting box sets of great performers from years ago, now available at bargain basement prices.   I realize that much of the pleasure derived from buying them is the guilty thrill of the purchase, rather than actually listening to the CDs, which isn’t really feasible with all those recordings.  I don’t usually tell my wife.  So it is a sort of shopping addiction, but I suppose as secret vices go, it’s less harmful than most !   The only problem is putting up more and more shelves to house them, plus the guilt in knowing that they will, in all probability, never be played.   I would be interested to see if others suffer from the same sort of paradoxical paralysis, induced by having – literally – ‘too many records’ and too much choice.

Paul Liggins commented on THE AGONIES OF CHOOSING A CD TO PLAY by Hugh Mather

Hugh has kindly allowed me to reproduce this most interesting article from his own blog at hmather@btopenworld.com Do respond …

Hi Rob.
I can only empathise with Hugh (although no salt tears for someone who has 2000 plus CDs!)
and those of us with sizeable collections will know the feeling.
Mine are arranged not in alphabetical order but chronolgical ( ie Early, Baroque, Classical et c)
I find this much more helpful when indecision strikes as you can reflect on what sort of ‘mood’ you’re in, and once a period is chosen this should helpfully narrow down the choice.
Also Hugh can enjoy rearranging his music this way and discovering all those wonderful items that he, like me, has probably forgotten that he had.
However, convincing our wives that by doing this we’re actually doing something useful might prove a little more tricky!
Best
Paul

2 thoughts on “THE AGONIES OF CHOOSING A CD TO PLAY by Hugh Mather

  1. I also have a very large CD & record collection and am afraid my experience is very similar – but there are some CDs which are played much more regularly than others. For example, Schubert, Wagner, Schumann, Brahms, Richard Strauss have a much better chance than Bach whose CDs I play irregularly. And then there are the CDs which introduced me to works which I hear from time to time and admire, but don’t necessarily love. I’m not proud of this. Just being honest. And although I own almost all the Mozart operas, I don’t hear them often enough – or perhaps I tend to hear them in phases, which is another possibility for all composers. So my conclusion is that although it is often difficult to choose what to hear from a large CD collection, some composers and discs have a much higher chance than others of being chosen frequently. And I’m afraid I go into having alternative recordings of works I love – thus the choice with Schubert lieder is not only which disc to choose but which singer. I find that Hermann Prey is often the winner of past singers and Gerhaher and Goerne of singers currently on top form. V. few of the new Wagner recordings are likely to be heard as often as those pre 1970s.

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    1. Thanks so much Richard. Re Wagner, I agree entirely, lieder too, and I much prize Prey’s Philips recordings which were reissued in four small boxes some years ago.
      Best. Rob

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