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A 70-CD set with duplicated recordings for $292.97! Is Sony trying to scalp us?

Sony has just released a 70-disc set of CDs. Some discs last less than 30 minutes. Some recordings are exact duplicates. Are you one of the people who has no option but to buy it?

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The set we are talking about is called 'Vladimir Horowitz - The Complete Original Jacket Collection' and it's causing a bit of a stir in classical music circles.

First, let's look at what's good about it...

If you like classical piano music and admire the playing of the late Vladimir Horowitz, you will find all of his recordings for RCA, Columbia and Sony in this set.

So that's good. It's very good. But some commentators are saying that there is plenty that is bad about this set too.

Firstly, each CD replicates an LP that was released by RCA or one of Sony's labels. The CD format is capable of storing up to 74 minutes of music as standard. But since LPs can only manage around two-thirds of that and maintain sufficient quality for classical music, a lot of this space is wasted.

Sixty of the discs are under 50 minutes and six are less than half an hour each!

Secondly, although clearly completeness is part of the exercise, it is difficult to see the point in including, for example, the 'Carnegie Hall Return Concert' of 1965 twice in identical recordings, although they have been edited differently.

Oh and by the way, this isn't a complete set of recordings at all. There are no recordings from HMV or Deutsche Grammophon, which Sony might have owned up to in larger letters.

And there is definitely something wrong with the entire premise of the set. Yes, each CD does come in the original jacket of the LP release. But of course, the CD jackets are so much smaller. So small that you can forget about seeing any of the detail or reading much of the text.

This is a particular disappointment because the cover is a large part of the pleasure of owning an LP. Would it have been that difficult to make it a 71-disc set with full-size artwork in PDF files on the extra disc? Perhaps this has been kept back for a 'Golden' edition to come out nearer Christmas.

Of course there will be some people for whom all of this will be irrelevant - dedicated Horowitz collectors who have it all already.

But hang on, Sony has managed to find two concert recordings, from 1951 and 1967, that have not been released, apart from short extracts, independently.

So if you are indeed a dedicated Horowitz collector, you will have to buy this whole set so you can get those two recitals.

The great thing about this set of course is that it's a hell of a lot of Horowitz. It's impossible to argue with that.

It could have been so much better though. The areas for improvement are so clear to see.

Having said that, we could probably look on this set as progress. There is such a wealth of material in the archives and the Original Jacket series attempts to present it in an attractive and useful manner.

The price may seem high, but for 70 CDs - no, let's call if 50 CD's worth of material - it works out at less than $6 apiece. Not perhaps a bargain, but reasonable value for money.

There has been quite a lot of commentary on this set, most of it combining both positive and negative. But the set is getting this amazing pianist talked about, and that can't be anything but a good thing.

By David Mellor Friday January 29, 2010
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