2016: A Classical Year

My music collecting has slowed down considerably. Actually, at the end of 2016 I had problems reconstructing from various saved receipts what I had actually bought and a number of CDs added to my collection this year are probably missing from the list below. For many of you out there, that list might still seem to be extensive, but compared to what I managed to get hold of the previous years, the list is embarrassingly short.

First and foremost, I have the feeling that my music collection has reached a saturation point. It happens less and less frequently that I get excited about any new release or reissue because I think that these past many years I actually managed to purchase what I wanted to have.

If you asked me right this very moment, the only thing I have on my list is the upcoming (judging from the speed of this reissue program, it will be released anytime between 2017 and 2078) deluxe reissue of Paul McCartney’s “London Town”, an album many people hate or dislike and many others consider to be a lesser release by him. Because of the right alignment of the stars when London Town was released, it happens to be one of my absolutely favorite albums (all of it).

Secondly, my switch to digital music has put a relatively new universe at my finger tips that allows me to listen to things I like but don’t necessarily need to have as a physical product. Besides streaming, I have ripped a very large part of my collection to .flac and am rediscovering it on a daily basis. Actually, as I wrote many times before around here, streaming my own ripped files has actually made me play what I have a lot more than I would have done otherwise.

Still, there are moments (don’t laugh) in which I don’t know what I want to listen to because I have the feeling that I have listened to everything I have a trillion times, which is – of course – nonsense.

Once in a while this idea of culling my collection and reducing it to about 1000 (physical) core CDs moves itself to the forefront, but because I know that the value of CDs has decreased drastically, to put it mildly, it really isn’t worth the effort. Much like with the many books I have read in my life and still have standing around here, I often think I should simply give it all away to someone who cares or to an institution that could make it available to a larger audience. In the end though, I always shelve the idea for later consideration. As long as I don’t have to move out of here, I have the space and everything will stay.

I have neither gotten tired of music nor of collecting, but I have most of what I need and, most importantly, I have all of it it in two (sometimes three) formats, one (or two) of which can be gotten rid of. A few hard drives take up a heck of lot less space than many thousands of CDs.

1) Classical Music

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Due to the influence my parents had on me way back when, classical piano music is something I never get tired of. Besides Maria João Pires, I have always been a big “fan” of both Martha Argerich and Alfred Brendel, Lately, I have added András Schiff to that list, whose Beethoven cycle on ECM (sonatas and Diabelli variations) I also added digitally to my collection.

Many people complained about the box “Martha Argerich: The Complete Recordings On Deutsche Grammophon (Limited Edition)” comes in, but I had absolutely no problem with it. At the time, her complete recordings on DG were heavily discounted and, unfortunate for others, the price has risen steeply since.

Alfred Brendel’s Complete Philips recordings were a steal, but had I waited a bit longer, I could have gotten it even cheaper. Still, this massive boxed set was a must-have addition and was ripped to my hard drive the moment it arrived here. Brendel’s two Beethoven Sonata cycles that I already had in my collection, I have since passed on to others.

András Schiff, whose interpretation of Haydn’s Piano Sonata No.54 in G major (Hob.XVI-40 – II) is a perennial favorite around here (and is included), was added at a bargain price when the two small boxed sets finally came down in price. Once I had added most of Schiff’s Haydn to my collection, I decided I wanted a complete Haydn piano sonatas boxed set and opted for Buchbinder’s recordings for starters, simply because the reviews were above OK and the price was low.

At some point in 2016, Eva Knardahl’s fabulous recordings of Grieg’s piano works suddenly became widely available again at a more than reasonable price and I jumped on them the second I noticed. At a much younger age, I had enjoyed many of the LPs that were available then and this boxed set purchase was an absolute no-brainer.

Jordi Savall’s recordings (1975-1983) of (a selection from) Marais’ “Pieces de Viole” (SACD) came highly recommended and I have thoroughly enjoyed this master’s interpretation of these little-known pieces, interpretations that have yet to be surpassed. This is music for the more quiet moments in life.

Fritz Reiner’s recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during his approximately 10-year period with the orchestra are legendary and when the boxed set was available at a low price, I jumped on that as well. The 63 CDs are a great addition to any classical collection and I actually managed to listen to all of those CDs within a relatively short span of time. What I enjoy most is the absence of a recognizable “style”; whereas other conductors are readily identifiable, Reiner – at least to my ears – gave the composer’s work the spotlight. Plus, the CSO is on fire most of the time. One of the best boxed sets I ever bought. People claim that some single Japanese reissues and various SACDs sound better but, to my ears, everything that is contained in this 63-CD boxed set is spectacular and more than good enough for my equipment.

Sony’s Baroque Masterpiecss (60-CD) is a bit of a piecemeal collection but, if you know your way around, it was the best way to get many recordings at a fraction of the cost single reissues fetch on the market. Using a voucher I still had, this came down to a couple of cents per CD and was an absolute steal.

The Philips box I added to the collection because I had the other one … and because for a few moments it was so cheap that even a mediocre business lunch would have cost substantially more. In comparison to many other boxed sets of this type, Philips actually filled out each CD with bonus material so you get a lot more than you paid for. The interpretations are often excellent and Philips was known for the sound quality of its analogue recordings of the time, which are well preserved here.

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2) Pop & Rock

As I wrote about elsewhere, everything that is not classical, fusion, jazz or Danish pop goes into a very broad category in my collection, Pop & Rock. In regard to physical products, not much was bought this year. To be quite honest, a lot of the above either doubled up on recordings I already had and was bought mostly because at some point in 2016, each one of the items was massively reduced in price for a short while.

Everyone who has read along here for a while knows that I’m a sucker for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s recordings, even if later ones were certainly of lesser quality. Still, when this complete boxed set rolled around for the price of a sandwich or two, I couldn’t resist, especially because it also improved on the sonics of some previous reissues I had bought. The same goes for the Cream “Classic Album selection”. I have never been the biggest Cream fan – something about their music just sounds “off” to me – but I recognize their importance in rock history. As I only had the Deluxe Edition of one of their albums, I expanded upon their oeuvre a bit. This box includes their four 1966 – 1969 studio albums in mini-LP gate fold sleeves (quite nice) and in more than adequate sound Despite some person’s insistence on amazon.com that they sound “dull and lifeless”, they don’t. They’re as good as the previous Japanese SHM-CD reissues … and a ton cheaper. I paid less for the box than one single Japanese reissue would have cost me.

If you look closely at Seji Ozawa & the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra’s recording of Russo: Street Music, Three Pieces for Blues Band and Orchestra and Gershwin’s An American in Paris, you will notice that it says “Corgy Siegel & Siegel-Schwall Band” in the fine print. That’s why I bought it.

I became excited when deluxe editions of Status Quo’s earlier albums were announced, and the first ones were quite good, but I decided to opt out when they became increasingly compressed. Still, being Quo head numero uno around here, those purchases (incl. the earlier Piledriver deluxe edition) were a must. “Rockin’ All Over the World” was an album I massively disliked already when it was released way back when (the new 2016 remix here was said to be a bit rockier but, uhm, nope …) and I also stopped my repurchasing of their earlier catalog with it. No matter how hard I try, I can’t enjoy any of the material from that and subsequent albums. Sorry.

The first Complete Stax/Volt Singles boxed set of three was the only one I didn’t have yet because the prices rose sharply before I realized it was issued ages ago and when it suddenly became available again in a slimmed-down box (cheap!), I purchased it right away.

The Monkees and T-Rex were never my cup of tea, at all, but both boxes were below 20 Euro for a short while and I simply bought them to perhaps trade them for something else later on.

3) Jazz

I bought exactly three jazz CDs this year that I can remember. That’s the lowest number of jazz purchases in recorded history. Why? The jazz section of my collection reached the above-mentioned saturation point quite a while ago and I really do have the feeling that – future reissues not withstanding – for now, I’m done. I haven’t had anything on my must-have list for ages and the above purchases, although there might have been a few more, were all impulse purchases.

Tribute to Night Train” I wrote about elsewhere on this site and the small 4-CD Frank Sinatra “A Voice on Air” box, which collects samples of his radio work from the first twenty years of his career, complemented my extensive Sinatra collection nicely.

Bill Charlap’s “Notes from New York” is a wonderful recording of what jazz piano trios used to sound like. Interestingly enough, a reviewer complained on amazon.com about the bass and drums being too upfront in the mix and Kenneth Washington, the drummer, jumped into his face:

It always amazes me in the world of Jazz, how many critics and people alike really don’t understand this music and simply don’t know what they’re talking about. Case in point, is this review of Bill Charlap’s cd. Poor mixing??? I went back and listened to this cd on a high end system as well as through Ipods and other portable devices currently used by consumers. I realized after spending precious time doing this that you’re one of these folks that doesn’t have a clue. I happen to be the drummer on this cd. Both Bill and I were present at the mixing session. We had one of the premiere sound engineers not only mix, but record this session (James Farber). It stands to reason that as musicians, we just may know a little something about how the music should sound. After all, we’ve been playing for at least 30 years. Each of the 3 instruments were mixed equally so that they’re in your ear. Much the same as if you were hearing us in a club live. We spent a lot of time making sure that the sound was correct. I really don’t pay much attention to what’s written about our music (good or bad). Truth be told, I haven’t the time, but when I do read nonsense like this, something should be said. I suggest you either upgrade your stereo system, learn a bit more about this music, go to see your local ear doctor. Better yet, do all three. K.W.

Not very nice, especially because the reviewer liked the music.

4) Digital

2016 marked the relatively final shift to digital music consumption for me … and it’s better this way. My apartment is stuffed to the brim with physical media and adding any more than the few things listed above would force me to move out into the garage.

I’m not going to add any cover images as that would blow up this website, but many releases and reissues were added either as HiRes or simple 16/44 .flac downloads from around the various websites such as HDTracks that have sprung up around the globe.

And, yes, I even added a few Amazon MP3 downloads to the collection because that was all that I needed, for example the various Rainbow concerts in Germany from around 1976/77, excellent live shows whose sonics didn’t merit anything better.

Many of the digital releases I added to my collection I also wrote about on this website in the “music stream“, so just have a look there, and some just doubled-up on what I had as physical products already, now available with better sonics. As I wrote about in an older post, “‘HiRes’ Lunacy“, you have to be careful in regard to digital purchases, but when done right, you can actually get hold of some stunning music in much better quality than previously available in any format. In that sense, the entire Van Halen catalog, which was accidentally released in a 24bit/196Hz format, was a revelation.

Adding the digital releases, the grand total blows previous years out of the water. Together with the rips from my own collection, something that is still (*groan*) an ongoing process and will be for a few years to come, I am somewhere around 5 – 10 TB of flac and HiRes files, currently spread across a number of external drives that are usually mirrored twice for backup purposes. In the process, I also got rid of about 90% of my old mp3-collection to free up space.

And that’s where all this digital music becomes somewhat of a headache. After many years, I still haven’t found the perfect and relatively fail-safe solution in regard to backup and 2017 will be the year in which I hopefully do. Of course, backups can never be 100% safe, even if you keep at least one copy of your files off-site in case of fire or the heavens falling on your head, but what I currently have – simple external USB drives – just doesn’t cut it. It becomes a juggling act of epic proportions. So, in 2017 I’m going to try to find a NAS solution with hot-swappable drives that will hopefully make me feel a little more at ease.

Here’s to 2017 then, another year of life & music.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and deus62.com is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

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