The Mozart 225 box set was the biggest box set ever. Until this year. Deutsche Grammophon will be releasing Bach 333, “the new complete edition,” in October. With 222 CDs, and just one single DVD, this will dwarf the Mozart set, which apparently sold well enough that DG has tried to come up with a faux round number to celebrate Bach and repackage his music. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
It will contain more than 280 hours of music, from 750 performers and 32 record labels. And that latter number is interesting. We saw a number of complete sets around 2000, and they were all single-label sets. The ability for DG to combine releases from all the Universal labels, and license from other labels, makes it possible to have a much better selection of music than from any one label.
I guess the above makes it sound like I’m interested in this set. I might be; at around £500, it’s a huge investment, but my love for Bach could sway me. I bought the Mozart set – and haven’t listed to very much of it – but my familiarity with Bach makes this tempting. On the other hand, it’s 222 CDs, which will take 280 hours to listen to – just once each – and countless days to rip, if I decide to rip them.
In 2000, I would have jumped on this – I did buy two of the complete sets available back then – but now, I’m not so sure. It’s not just that I buy fewer CDs, and have less time to listen to my huge collection, but I’m not sure that there is any real need for this. It’s excessive, but the music of Bach is so great that, well, he merits this type of approach.
There is one element of the set that is interesting, but that makes me hesitate. Some sets of works are made up of a mixture of recordings by different performers. For example, the lute suites are performed by three different people; the sonatas for violin and keyboard by two different pairs; and there are discs containing a hodgepodge of similar works by a variety of musicians, such as one with cello suites Casals, Starker, and Genrdon, followed by a lute suite by Gerwig, and gamba sonata by Wenzinger, a partita by Segovia, and a suite by Bream (and there’s much more on that disc). This does have some attraction as a sort of compilation of great performers, but it is a bit confusing. On the other hand, many works are present in multiple versions, such as the Kunst der Fuge for chamber orchestra, piano, and harpsichord, but there is no organ version.
The Mozart set was a limited edition: 15,000 copies. It hasn’t sold out yet. This Bach set is also limited, presumably the same number, and may have good resale value if it sells out, but it’s not worth buying as an investment, because fewer people these days care about big box sets.