The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What single CD best exemplifies the digital Compact Disc revolution for you?

April 2, 2012
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

One day I was sitting at home, looking at my CD collection.

Actually, I was staring in disbelief.

I confess: I have too many CDs.

Even after having given away or donated many, many copies, personal copies I bought and reviewer copies I received free, to local libraries, I have way too many to listen to.

The more CDs I collect, the more it seems my listening focuses more narrowly on certain composer, certain works and certain performers.

But after all, I started collecting them when the first CD player (SONY’s pioneering CDP-101) first came out in 1982 — available in the US in early 19893, I recall — and there were only maybe a dozen digitally recorded titles available.

Anyway, as I looked I kept thinking: Which single CD best exemplifies the qualities I like and look for in a Compact Disc?

I could go with a great symphony – maybe Mahler or Beethoven or Brahms — because of the sonic range and realism it reproduces and the length of the timings, which means not changing discs.

I could go with chamber music, my deepest love, because of the way it almost makes it sound like the chamber musicians are playing right in your own home in front of you.

But instead I settled on Artur Rubinstein’s 1960s recordings of the Chopin Ballades and Scherzi (below).

I picked the Rubinstein CD – at least this particular CD because it has been through many CD formats and  remasterings — for several reasons.

I love it and never find out outdated. I consider it not necessarily the definitive version of all eight great pieces — can there be such a thing as “definitive” art? But I certainly find it the indispensable version against which all other interpretations before and after must be compared. So I love it for the piano playing on it, for the first-rate performance.

I also love it because it combines two 33-1/3 LPs that I knew and loved as a teenager. That makes the state-of-the-art CD actually cheaper all these many years later than the original vinyl versions were.

And most of all I love the sound, no matter whatever the LP-and-turntable audiophiles say.

I love that the listening is guilt-free and anxiety-free.

I listen to those pieces and that recording a lot. In the old days I would have scratched up the recording terribly or gone through several. With the CD, it is always there — just the way I anticipate it from the last time – without anxiety about ruining it with a slip of the hand and the gouging of a needle.

What single CD would you choose as your favorite to represent the best achievements of the Compact Disc revolution?

The Ear wants to hear.


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