We just pulled the trigger on the Pierre Boulez Complete Columbia Album Collection. We knew we would sooner or later. We have remarked previously about several other really very interesting bargain boxes, including Deutsche Grammophon’s really very interesting Ferenc Fricsay boxes. For some reason, Sony in particular has been putting out consistently very interesting boxes over the last few years.
There were the two opera boxes, Wagner at the Met and Verdi at the Met, both of which are essential listening. Sony also put out several big, big boxes devoted to conductors, none of whom are exactly household names in 2015. For example, they reissued, very attractively, the monumental Toscanini series. They put out a big Fritz Reiner collection. They put out—and this is really surprising—boxes of Pierre Monteux and Jean Martinon. And the Boulez box. All interesting and not hugely expensive. (We bought Testament’s issue of Keilberth’s 1955 Ring as it was issued one music-drama at a time, so we know hugely expensive.)
But as we have accumulated several of them, a question occurs to us: does anyone actually listen to all of the recordings in these sixty-some-CD boxes? We’re not asking a rhetorical question, either. When we buy one of these enormous boxes, we buy it (1) on the strength of the reputation of some of the recordings in it, (2) whether we are especially interested to hear a given performance, and (3) whether the price is right. We don’t sit down and thing, “Now, would I be interested in hearing Pierre Boulez conduct each and every piece included?” If some pieces interest us tremendously and others leave us cold, well, we figure that it all comes out in the wash. (Sometimes our interest in a single recording outweighs other considerations: we bought an otherwise not-very-interesting box of odds-and-ends Wagner recordings just to get Erich Leinsdorf’s Lohengrin.) In other words, we get a box and figure that we’ll never listen to all of the recordings. Others may, however, agonize over the choice.
We wonder what the label producers think when they assemble these massive boxes. Who are they pitching to?