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On the Record - or CD

A long-overdue housecleaning of my desk yesterday led me to wonder about the current state of classical recording and its audience. We all bemoan the decline of the recording industry; and leading figures in the classical music business openly acknowledge that CDs now serve more the function of a calling-card -- something to establish your name and identity -- than a potentially lucrative product. However, perhaps precisely because of this devaluation, there are more CDs coming out than ever before. (I should have taken a photo of my desk, post-China, as documentary evidence.) And I'm curious about who's buying them. Do you, the readers of this blog, buy as many CDs as you used to (given, of course, that there are fewer actual stores where you can find them)? Do you find yourself relying more heavily on downloading sites like iTunes or the brand-new Classical Archives, on subscription sites like, or on places like ArkivMusic or Amazon or Classics Online where you can buy plain old CDs or downloads? Is the flood of new CDs and new kinds of music -- like Naxos's focuses on less-known composers -- reflected in your own collections, and in your listening experiences?

I'm honestly just curious: faced with the mountains of CDs that have accumulated on my desk, I wonder exactly who is listening, and to what.

(And yes, watch this space for more CD reviews very soon.)

Edited to add: This discussion has branched over onto my Facebook page as well:

By Anne Midgette  |  June 30, 2009; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  CD reviews , polls , random musings  
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I rarely buy cd's these days, being pressed for time. In fact, I've got a few that I bought a few months ago that I have not had time to listen to.

So, I get my fix by streaming from classical radio stations and the Rhapsody service. Fortunately, I have a wireless device that lets me run the stream through my stereo system, so the audio is pretty good. I say "pretty good" because it is not at the same levels as a cd. But, its better than dropping $20 for a cd that maybe gets played once, or sits around.

Posted by: GRILLADES | June 30, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

I continue to buy CD's at same rate as before. Main reason is to get the documentation (liner notes) that are not available via downloads. I am also renting music/opera DVD's/blu-rays from Netflix.
Finally, I really like Sirius/XM subscription radio. Martin Goldsmith (remember him?) is on during day and you can usually hear something interesting. My only complaint is there is no play list on their web site.

Posted by: kashe | June 30, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

CDs sound better than downloads, so I'm still buying them, particularly for classical releases. Like kashe, I appreciate the documentation as well. With pop releases, I'm sometimes willing to sacrifice sound quality for convenience... BTW, "indie classical" labels like New Amsterdam, which market to a 20- and 30-something demographic, are still reporting solid sales for CDs vs. downloads.

Posted by: bloggomio | June 30, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Honestly...I havent purchased a CD in .. ..about 10 years. Maybe its the craziness of living life that is DC including an always laboring commute. By the time I get home, its game on with a very loving and ultra high energy little boy who wants me to play with his Thomas The Train and company followed by teh panic of oh my god..I have no idea what to make for dinner. The idea of treating myself to a CD instead of a massage isn't even on my radar. Its not the music..its the quest for time spent wisely.

Posted by: IGotLotsToSay | June 30, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

1. I still buy CDs. They are preferable for sound quality and liner notes.

2. That said, there is such a huge price difference between music I buy on eMusic and CDs that I will download stuff on eMusic, just to take a chance on it. This is how I got Osmo Vanska's Beethoven cycle for approximately $16.

3. I buy fewer CDs than I did when I was in high school and college just because now my collection has reasonable coverage of the standard repertoire. I'm still filling in stuff as needed, but the need is not as great.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | June 30, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

I should probably note also that lately I am, in fact, doing a lot of buying CDs at concerts, when my emotions are running high. Fun with impulse shopping! I dropped $40 on three CDs by pianist Jenny Lin at her performance at Strathmore (and have not been disappointed).

Posted by: Lindemann777 | June 30, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

I buy CDs at the same rate that before, though I should mention that I rarely buy the latest releases. I have things planned for months. Here's what's on my listening desk now:

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the 20th Century set released by the orchestra; live recordings including a superb Mahler 3rd from, surprise, Martinon!

Constantin Silvestri - BBC Legends, the last CD with works by Reznicek (Silvestri's uncle!), Tchaikovksy, and Elgar; a grossly and shamelessly underrated conductor.

Mireille by Gounod, the ArkivMusic re-release of Andre Cluytens set with Vivalda, Gedda, Dens, and Vessieres. My favorite Gounod opera - and Nicolas Joel, the new Paris Opera director agrees with me.

Dvorak - poems conducted by Rafael Kubelik. Classic recordings.

Busch Quartett in Schubert; again, classic recordings.

Arnold Rose and the Rose Quartett - longtime concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic.

Gabriel Pierné - Cydalise et le chèvre-pied conducted by the late David Shallon; anybody who likes Daphnis et Chloe should love this work.

I will be receiving shortly: Martinu Symphony no 6, Piston Symphony no. 6, Menotti violin concerto (good work!) with Tossy Spivakovsky and the Boston Symphony conducted by Charles Munch, CD available in Japan.

Also from Japan I am looking forward to Tcahikovsky's 4th conducted by Enescu and Brahms 4th with Kurt Sanderling.

I will stop here.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | June 30, 2009 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I continue to buy CDs sparingly. I also belong to (but will probably not continue my membership when it expires). Truth be told, I have far too much music and some things haven't been listened to in probably twenty years. (It's actually similar to my DVD collection ... although not the "twenty years" part.)

I do, via emusic, download composers who are unknown to me, both contemporary and not, classical and pop or other genres.

As a performer I hear a great deal of music from the stage or pit. (My favorite places to sit!) I also have a season subscription to another opera company. I much prefer live music to a recording. I do sometimes have to pick up recordings when working on a new piece myself or with a student, and that will continue, I'm sure.

I wouldn't suggest that the internet has caused me to purchase less. I think it's more of a "I know I don't need this" and my attempt to be more careful with adding to my material goods.

But of course I say I'm not going to buy unless it's for study and then I find a recording I simply have to have. And so it goes ...

Posted by: pattyoboe | June 30, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I still buy CDs, although I get plenty for free (as a critic). Only in a pinch (needing one track of something for a lecture, or for comparison) will I download. I like liner notes!

I also play the CDs, because iTunes is so hopeless with classical music (multi-movement works or multi-disc operas).

Posted by: silvermomma | June 30, 2009 3:49 PM | Report abuse

I've pretty much completely switched to digital. So much that I bought Wendy Sutter/Philip Glass - Songs and Poems for Solo Cello from iTunes, realizing a few hours later that I already had the CD. Moronic yes, but proves how much I've become detached from my formerly beloved CDs and even more beloved liner notes.

Posted by: ewarner1 | June 30, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

I just got back into classical music a couple of years ago and went on an ArkivMusic buying frenzy for a while there. But now that I've got most of what I want on CD, I've eased off. These days I split my listening between WETA and CDs. I've downloaded a few items when there's been a good offer, but 99% of my collection is still hardware rather than software.

Posted by: kevinwparker | June 30, 2009 6:52 PM | Report abuse

My huge reduction in cd purchases wasn't influenced by the iPod (much as I love it)... but more that I moved internationally and left 300 cds behind, so realised I was living quite happily without them.

Posted by: ianw2 | June 30, 2009 7:33 PM | Report abuse

I'm buying CDs at the same rate, but in the past few years I have also been buying some music on iTunes when I want only a specific piece and not a full CD. For example, I wanted Szymanowski's Concert Overture but didn't want to buy a CD for it because all the CDs that had it also had works that I already had plenty of recordings of, so I went online and purchased the Overture by itself.

I have to admit that I'm probably partly responsible for the death of the music store. Once upon a time I used to go to Tower Records for all my classical CD purchases, but since then I found that I could browse a larger selection of CDs at cheaper prices on websites such as Amazon.

On the one hand I do try to build on my collection of "canonical" works, but on the other I'm definitely interested in exploring obscure works, whether they are by neglected older composers or undiscovered new ones. I don't do it randomly, however; I branch out by working with styles that I know I enjoy. For example, I really like late-Romantic music, so I've looked up lesser known works by Enescu, Szymanowski, Franz Schmidt, and Schreker. I also enjoy Soviet music, so I've looked up Popov and Weinberg.

Posted by: robertcostic | July 1, 2009 12:01 AM | Report abuse

I should add two more CDs to my list, then I stop, I promise.

Jakov Gotovac's opera Ero s onoga svijeta (Ero the Joker, Ero der Schelm) in the classic recording led by the composer, the best known singers being Josip (Josef) Gostic, Marianna Radev, and Vladimir Ruzdjak. Folk operas is one of my not-so guilty pleasures, and I also enjoy such titles as Dvorak's "The Jacobin" and "King and Charcoal Burner", or Jaromir Weinberger's Schwanda the Bagpiper.

Korngold's Symphony in F sharp major with the Munich Philharmonic conducted by Rudolf Kempe, perhaps the reference version of the work.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | July 1, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

As my musical interest has expanded from just rock to include classical and opera, I find that I do buy just as many CDs as I ever did. Rock albums or songs, I'm more likely to buy online as downloads. For classical music and opera, I'll buy CDs through ArkivMusic, or through Amazon if the Amazon price is significantly lower.

I'm also a subscriber to eMusic, which I use to try out classical music with which I'm unfamiliar. The price is so low that I feel I can afford to experiment a bit. If I come across a recording that I absolutely love, then I consider buying the CD of it, too, in order to get the liner notes (sadly lacking on eMusic) and higher fidelity recordings.

Posted by: CruzerSF | July 1, 2009 8:06 PM | Report abuse

I haven't been buying CDs recently. Generally I may go into a bit of a buying frenzy when I develop an interest in a particular composer. This happened with Bartok, Nielsen, Shosty, Walton, Finzi, Janacek, Dutilleux, Lutoslawski and a few others. It goes in cycles and/or spurts. Lately I can't say I have had a keen interest in listening to any of it:(

Posted by: shovetheplanet | July 2, 2009 6:10 AM | Report abuse

Back in late 2003 while in between jobs, I had to sell my classical CD collection, which turned out to be much more painful overall than selling a coin collection a year previously.

About a year and a half ago, I began the process of rebuilding the collection -- thankfully I had the foresight to catalog what I had before I sold it off. So, I'm buying a lot of CDs these days; but also supplementing with downloads in cases where I want a particular work without buying a disc that unnecessarily duplicates already-owned repertoire (um, seven different recordings of the "Barber of Seville" overture, anyone??).

Mostly I buy used from Amazon, but occasionally find myself importing used from Amazon UK -- occasionally a disc is cheaper from there, even after shipping and exchange rates!

I'm also ripping my CDs to an external terabyte at last count, I have almost 46 GB of music, from Adolphe Adam to Carl Michael Ziehrer...oh, the joy and bliss again! :)

Posted by: SportzNut21 | July 2, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I might be an oddball, even among die-hard classical music fans.

I started buying CDs with music in the standard rep here and there, then stopped when I began grad school (for lack of time).

Since I started working full-time, I picked it up from where I left off, but with a focus on one composer only. After I collected say, 80-90 CDs of his works, many of them are the same pieces played by different soloists/conductors/orchestras, I stopped again.

In this process, I would, from time to time, single out non-mainstream labels for that composer.

Downloading? The idea came to me only once, years ago. I abandoned it, as soon as I figured out that the quality is nowhere compared with live or,a good CD.

I said I am an oddball, because right now, I am starting collecting albums of... that composer's works. Just bought a turn-table. It feels good, watching the big, fat , round record twirl & listening to the divine music.

Posted by: fleurfo | July 3, 2009 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Until the economic crisis hit home in a deep way last month, I was buying CDs exclusively. The sound quality of MP3 online music just is not appropriate for reproduction on a good stereo system. I would think somewhat differently if, in a few years, with improvements in network speed and storage, lossless formats like FLAC became common, and if a playback device with decent DACs that plugged into the amp or pre-amp became available.

I hope that times will change for the better, and that I can buy CDs again soon. The liner notes and libretti do make a difference, when record companies are so good as to provide them. (Try finding a libretto with English translation for Charpentier's Cendrillon!)

Posted by: jkcohen | July 3, 2009 11:20 PM | Report abuse

Fleurfo, how do you manage not to get tired of hearing only the works of one composer? Or do you listen to other composers on the radio while you only collect the works of the one?

Reminds me of the baseball player Wade Boggs who ate nothing but chicken for dinner. Then again, he had a great career, so maybe he was onto something;)


Posted by: shovetheplanet | July 4, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

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