Magazine article The Spectator

7,000 CDs to Hear before I Die

Magazine article The Spectator

7,000 CDs to Hear before I Die

Article excerpt

There's a folder in my computer's external hard drive in which you'll find 24 complete recordings of the Bach Cello Suites, 100 recordings of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, 97 of his Sixth, 107 of his Seventh, 65 of Bruckner's Seventh, 26 of Debussy's La Mer , 44 Fauré Requiems, 25 Mozart Requiems, 79 Mahler Sixths and 45 Rachmaninov Second Piano Concertos.

That sounds as if I've moved beyond anorak collecting to compulsive hoarding; or maybe I have delusions of presenting Building a Library on Radio 3 ('... but only Tennstedt, with his impulsive diminuendo, grasps that the second subject is tragically compromised by the shift to C sharp minor').

Actually, I didn't really collect them. Someone else did. All I had to do was wait for them to download; Bruckner, bless him, took a fortnight. Please don't ask me where to find the files -- if you want them badly enough, start searching online.

There's surprising stuff in those files. Beethoven's Fifth played by Peter Eotvos and Ensemble Modern, for example. A microscopic flourish of the oboes pops out of the speakers in the middle of a raging orchestral tutti; you wonder how on earth Eotvos can illuminate every detail. The answer is that he's resorted to microphone trickery -- and fair enough, since the result is a mind-blowing Fifth to rival Carlos Kleiber's.

This monster haul didn't cost me a penny. How exciting that would have been 20 years ago, when Tower Records charged 50 quid for the slimmest box set. But that was before I had approximately 7,000 CDs on my shelves or stored digitally... and when I still had time.

If I played my music non-stop, taking time out to sleep, it would take just over a year. That's inevitably a rough guess, but what I do know -- and this is the reason I've been thinking along such peculiar lines -- is that if I live as long as my father then that takes me to December 2017.

In other words, my grotesquely swollen CD library has become a symbol of mortality -- a reminder that I've already heard most of the music I'm ever going to hear, and most of that in a lazy, haphazard way.

So, a bit self-consciously, I've positioned a small armchair opposite the stereo and forbidden myself from reading anything except sleeve notes. The aim is to work out what really matters to me: to dig deep into my collection and then decide what recordings to take to a desert island or have buried with me as grave goods. …

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