(*Disclaimer* This entry is not intended for commercial purposes or for the advertisement and endorsement of the following discontinued product and the author is not, in any way, associated with any bidding sites or its related auction partners; nor financially/gainfully enriched by the contents of this entry)
The Classical Collection (” The Best Classical Music Brought To Life “) would probably be remembered in posterity as the direct answer to the large-scale collection ‘The Great Composers’ series published by UK publisher Marshall-Cavendish. While the latter consisted of a systematic arrangement of watershed musical epochs, the Classical Collection focuses on a select few composers tucked alongside a great deal of lesser-known musicians and predictably isolated many more gifted composers who would easily make their mark in the hearts and ears of classical music enthusiasts.
This collection was first released in Malaysia sometime in May or June 1993 and published by Orbis Publishing. I recalled that there was an advertisement on Malaysian television where the first strains of Piotr Illyich Tchaikovsky’s ‘Piano Concerto no. 1’ was played and the viewer would be informed that the first issue has gone on sale in major bookstores e.g. MPH Bookstores; Times Bookshop; Mag Store; the now-defunct Berita Times and lots more (and infinitely plenty of smaller ones as well from your regular newsagent or the shop uncle who sells cheap manga and ‘Old Master Q’ comics) and there would be a magazine binder on sale as well.
The whopping price of RM10.95 per issue was actually quite steep even back in those days. For that price, you could acquire either a copy of the magazine with an accompanying cassette tape (touted as ‘top quality chrome dioxide tape’) or the regular CD. It goes without saying that the cassette tape quality is of slightly higher standard than that of the mass-produced CD counterpart even though the recording sound is variable. Yes, the chrome tape is quite durable but we all know that cassette tapes are becoming as frequent as 3.5 inch diskettes these days. I can’t even find a dedicated cassette/radio compo these days at your friendly electric and electronics store nowadays – you know, just the ones to give my massive cassette collection a run to keep them from being magnetized from lack of mechanical activity.
I guess that was the collection came at the time when classical music was really taking a strong foothold on the Malaysian public. There was the Johann Strauss II miniseries on television in the ‘Dunhill Double’ slot (*yes, there were the days when cigarette companies could legitimately sponsor any ventures they so choose until a ban sometime in mid-1990s) and you can see Johann Strauss aficionados appearing out of nowhere – Yamaha road shows had kids playing the familiar tunes of the ‘Blue Danube’ waltz or the equally compelling ‘Emperor’s Waltz’.
I’m still an ardent supporter of Strauss’ music till now but I believe even back then that the nurturing of interest of classical music when young should include exposure to all types of music- Baroque, modern age, Romantic age, for instance. There are people who often play to the safe side and keep listening to the more popular pieces (such as those examples found in mobile phone ringtones and those in cheap disco parlours) but I think that the Malaysian public was genuinely abuzz with this collection – except my parents.
You see, my folks are the sort of parents who are astute enough to know that listening to these tapes or CDs are a form of education and mind-development, but they questioned the price of the magazines for sure and they were also thinking the same as most other adults of their age – that classical music can be dull and that it’d only be a safe investment if you bought music which the whole world knows even without owning a classical music record all their lives. Plus, they weren’t the sort of parents to invest on something which pre-pubescent teens would discard as soon as interest in them wanes. It would be most unthinkable to spend RM 10 and above on stuff which could prove an unsound investment.
Unperturbed, me and my brother who knows that musical education has been most fulfilling thus far and even strangely exciting would be trying our best to convince my parents to purchase these magazines. We watched as the issues rolled by – Vivaldi (no. 5); Handel etc until Johann Strauss II (no.8) and even then, my parents weren’t the least bit convinced. (Strauss’ music is classified as ‘safe’ and ‘highly-accessible’ by Malaysian standards if you know what I mean)
Then my brother got one copy for his birthday from his high school pals- Grieg (issue no.9) (in September 1993) and that was the turning point. That particular cassette tape was run ragged in the car stereo and finally they gave in. Our first entry in the ambitious collection was marked by the purchase of Beethoven (no.24) for my own birthday gift amongst other back issues (a term for the acquisition of previous issues which are no longer readily available in the market anywhere). Regrettably, we still don’t have the first issue in the collection (Tchaikovsky) and it’s really weird to not have the pioneer issue at all.
The magazine is divided into several neat sections –
i. About the composer – Contains a short introductory biography of the composer. In three pages, you can expect to read about his birthplace, formal musical education and the career-defining moments; finally ending with the causes of death and all other tributes. While generally there was a noticeable lack of citation of these ‘facts’, they are, for the most part, accurate when compared with other biographical notes written by other authors. The occasional embellishment and the odd mistake here and there are forgivable. Interesting period photographs and artworks adorn these pages with musical quotes pertaining to the composer or something in general about music. Some of these quotes are somewhat questionable by themselves but they are mildly informative. A general timeline is also given with important events logged in this compact section. If the composer has been featured before, the other biography would likely be a more insightful detail into a particular epoch of the composer’s career.
ii. Music notes – This section contains a brief history about the music featured in the particular issue. Like the biography section, this section could be open to some debate as to its historical accuracy.
iii. Playing music – This is the section where a simplified/abridged version of one of the featured music is presented. It is often one of the more recognizable tunes of the record provided and is often a one-line tune. These pieces are quite ok for Pre-Grade music students but can be an insult to the intelligence of their advanced counterparts.
iv. Listening to music – As the magazine describes, this part of the volume explains the musical moods in general and ‘tells you exactly what to listen out for’. While there could be a certain degree of subjective opinion here, it can be a valuable addition to the notes. This section includes a small panel called ‘The Magic of Music‘ where the individual composer’s style is documented here – it can be a featured work as earlier issues may suggest but later on it would be a fraction of the composer’s affinity and composition tendencies explained.
v. More music to listen to – Usually, the centre piece featured may be presented in future issues. If the composer’s works are featured for the first time in the collection’s chronology, this section would include a list of the composer’s major and more popular works. If not, it would be a run-down of some rare gems which the music arranger would feel too good to leave out.
vi In the next issue – Not surprisingly, this would be a section where most readers would aim for if the current issue falls below expectations. Incredibly, this would act as an appetite-whetting move in the early stages of the collection’s lifespan as it would encourage selective purchases instead of see-all and buy-all. In my own stance, some composers, such as Josef Haydn, Telemann or another Handel album would be given a miss if the selection is not delectable enough.
Format – a) CD – has a beautiful gold-leaf/black label on the CD itself with a motif of a conductor. The programme sheet also has some drawings on it which the cassette version doesn’t. Starting from issue 30 (JS Bach), the same inlay card also has the track listing at the immediately accessible side when opened and the front cover is printed with ‘Original Recordings’ and ‘Digitally Mastered’ together with the SPARS Code ‘DDD’ along the left side.
b) Cassette tape. Touted by its publishers as produced with chrome dioxide tape and presented in the latest slimline cassette case.
Length – at least 60 minutes on the average. Chopin (issue no. 56 is the only one I know so far which clocked in less than this average and there could be more although it is uncommon. The running time may not be a good yardstick as to the quality of its contents.
Recorded sound – on the whole, the sound is quite good. On smaller ensembles performing chamberworks and solo pieces, the recorded clarity really shines but I feel that most recordings lacked the bass. Some issues feature recordings which can be labeled from ‘bad’ to ‘downright abysmal’ e.g. Berlioz (issue no.19); Saint-Saëns (issue no.20); Bruckner (issue no. 45); Weber (issue no. 47); Monteverdi (issue no. 49); Tchaikovsky (no. 58); Schumann (no.60) are the main candidates. These issues had some strange, prevalent hissing and scratchy sound in its recordings which made listening to it a really straining effort with the louder parts sounding like a cluster of bad notes. On the other hand, some orchestras are truly wonderful – the Wiener Volksoper Orchester for the Johann Strauss issues 8 and 32, and the Tchaikovsky ‘Violin Concerto’ issue no. 40 is noteworthy. The publishing house claims that the compact discs and the cassettes have been digitally recorded and mastered but take each issue as they come.
Performance – very subjective. If I were to give a general opinion, then I’d say that most of the works performed on these discs and tapes are actually quite average; nothing special nor outstanding. Some orchestras are sub-par than others and for good reason. *Note that I’m referring to the quality of the orchestras and performers and not whether a musical piece is good to listen to or is just plain sucky. For the given price however, you’d be hard pressed to find other bang for your buck. Particularly good orchestras are the Wiener Volksoper; the Philharmonia Hungarica; the Radio Symphony Orchestra Ljubljana; the South German Philharmonic; the London Philharmonic Orchestra; the Caspar da Salo Quartet; the Czech State Philharmonic; and the Philharmonia Slavonica. Notable performers and conductors are Alfred Scholz; Dubravka Tomšič; Anton Nanut; Peter Schmallfuss; Henry Adolph; Dalibor Brazda; and Libor Pešek. The bad recordings are actually not that pervasive in this collection but they may include Tchaikovsky’s half-hearted ‘Overture 1812’ (issue no. 26) amongst others.
Music selection – Orbis probably accumulated their cache of musical recordings from various German-speaking record companies such as Deutsche Austrophon; Pilz Media etc. as evidenced by the copyright label on the CDs and tapes. Having said that – Orbis’ musical selection and, to a larger extent, their selection of composers for their issues seem to write themselves from the catalogues available to these record labels. If you’re a collector and have noticed, some issues seem to assuage our concerns that the magazine is going nowhere by promising to feature some works recommended ‘in future issues’. Sometimes, a blatant mistake may have caused Orbis to withdraw from thinking of ever publishing another issue of a selected composer, notably of Johann Strauss II where in issue no.8, the waltz ‘Morning Papers’ op. 279 was wrongly published as ‘Where the Lemons Blossom’ op.364 in track 9. How then, could they hope to republish the actual op.364 (it’s in the DA catalogue) as ‘Morning Papers’? I think that this glaring mistake is one of many in such an extensive collection but it could not be easily covered up. If they hadn’t made the mistake, there could have been another Strauss issue with ‘Vienna Sweets’ waltz op.307; ‘Accelerations’ op. 234 and Josef Strauss’ ‘Village Swallows’ waltz op.164 and the real ‘Where the Lemons Blossom’ featured alongside some other pieces like the ‘Die Fledermaus’ Overture for example.
=Public Reception and other criticisms=
I do think that the Malaysian public really enjoyed the collection when it first came out. You could see that the Indian newsagents were doing a mighty fine trade with this magazine, taking in back orders and being overstocked with these issues back in its heyday in 1994 and 1995. Some young kids even bought this magazine on their own accord far back in 1994 for Smetana (no. 27) or even Ravel (no.29). By my own admission that I was a late starter, I did collect the earliest (no.2 Mozart) and added on many more from the Yamaha school at Kelana Jaya where they had a dedicated set of back issues for sale. The old Mag Store in Carrefour at Subang Jaya also helped in supplementing some vital issues which I found necessary to acquire.
Most bookstores do have a certain degree of back issues in their stock even in 1995 and also in 1998 but you could see that its reception has somewhat dwindled. There were some unexplained delays over getting more stock over from the UK. For example, in August 1995, I was eagerly expecting issue no. 48 (Beethoven) to come out but waited till late December 1995 for it to actually go on sale here. Most news vendors shrugged and said that there were problems with the stockist but that was all they could say. There was also a time when some issues were bumped and then I was dismayed that I’ve missed out on issues 69 to 79 in 1997 because of this erratic distribution. With some effort, I managed to track some back issues such as nos. 63 to 68 and issues 74 and 75 but I was quite dissatisfied that my collection has suffered some setback. The previous Indian newsagent at Asia Jaya before its renovation had many back issues but most of them were of fairly limited scope and its prices weren’t really that attractive for a back issue- I suspect that they have now relocated to nearby Amcorp Mall but I couldn’t find any Classical Collection on sale there. Even worse, towards the end of its distribution life in Malaysia, I suspect that Malaysians didn’t even get to buy issue no. 95 (Weber) and the last ever issue is Liszt (no .94). This is all down to the poor distribution practice adopted by its local distributor which we were informed, was Times Publishing.
You could say that most of the issues featured rarely caught the attention of its once loyal customers and collectors. The glitz of the collection has almost all but ended in issue 24 upwards when the famous Beethoven piece, Fur Elise was featured. That was probably the end of the musical familiarity stage and moving on to composers whom most people even had trouble pronouncing their names. I mean, would anyone be willing to pay RM 11 for Karl Stamitz (issue no. 81) or another Haydn bore fest (no. 83) knowing full well that music has a limited amount of inspired masterworks which truly stood the test of time and fickle audiences to become established as a classic.
For the uninitiated, I still think that classical music is an acquired taste – you may be happy with pop/modern interpretations of classical masterworks but may suffer a culture shock when listening to the same pieces played by a top orchestra. The collection did feature some poignant and monumental pieces towards the end of its lifespan with Schubert’s 9th Symphony (issue no. 89) and Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto (issue no. 90) but I think that most people with little classical music interest would be bothered with that. The age demographics have probably moved on to other things and this collection is all but forgotten.
My favourite places to acquire these copies would be these in no particular order:
i. Mag Store (I think that it’s now called something else), Carrefour Subang Jaya [by far, the most copies acquired from, and some valuable back issues order placed through the store owner]
ii. Atria (could be the newsvendor outside at the car park area; Popular Bookstore; or Times Bookshop at Parkson). [I acquired my last ever copies of the Classical Collection from the Parkson outlet which is Times Bookshop. They weren’t selling any new issues at that time which is around June 1998]
iii. MPH (Bangsar; Jaya Supermarket; 1 Utama) [Jaya Supermarket used to have lots of back issues as well]
iv. SBL (SS2) [They were the first ones to even have the special magazine rack shipped in. It was a blue cardboard storage racks which could easily accommodate 2 simultaneously released issues.]
v. Kancilmas (SS2)
vi. Indian shop next to ‘Chow Yang’ (SS2) [Got Debussy no. 53; Haydn no.57 and Tchaikovsky no. 58 there. Can’t recall if there ever was a need to return there for other issues at that time]
vii. Chip Lee (SS2). [Got my last ever new issue here which is Liszt issue 94]
viii. B&L (ex-Asia Jaya.) [Used to have lots of back issues there but nothing before issue 19 and seems to have reached until issues 76 before reaching a dead end]
ix. Times Bookshop (Yaohan; Parkson; old Jaya Jusco store at Taman Tun Dr Ismail) [got issue 32 Johann Strauss II from the last of these venues. Fantastic, I was waiting for it like close to 2 months after the Mahler issue promised its appearance in the following one]
x. Yamaha Music Centre (Kelana Jaya) *did not continue to sell after issue 19 (Berlioz) [attained many of the earlier issues which I’ve missed out on.]
The collection is somewhat eye-catching and even so from a distance as it has a distinguished colour scheme for its issues. The colour cycle repeats itself after the 15th colour (issues 15; 30; 45; 60) has the same colour and so forth.
2. Dark Blue
3. Dark Green
4. Blood Red
6. Sky Blue
8. Light Green
12. Chocolate Brown
13. Dark Red
==Complete list of issues==
*Some featured music could not be fully documented due to space constraints or lack of information due to break in collection sequence (cassette is ^ / CD is # – some issues I have both cassette tape and CD)
3. Chopin – Piano Classics (various Chopin favourites – Etude no. 1 ‘Revolutionary’; etc.) #
5. Vivaldi – Celebration of the Baroque (‘The Four Seasons’ and other concerti) ^
8. Johann Strauss II – the Romance of Vienna (‘Blue Danube’ and other classics) ^
18. Liszt – Romantic Masterpieces (Piano Concerto no.1; and others)
19. Berlioz – Romantic Classics (‘Rêverie et caprice‘; ‘Symphonie Fantastique’) ^ #
21. Mozart – Melodic Masterpieces (Symphony no. 40 in G Minor and others)
28. Chopin – Romantic Classics (Piano Concerto no.1 in E minor; and others)
30. J.S. Bach – Baroque Masterpieces (‘Well-Tempered Clavier’; Trio Sonata for Organ; selection from ‘Brandenburg’ concertos)
31. Mahler – the Great Symphonies (Symphony no.5 in C sharp minor) ^
32. J. Strauss II – the Romance of Vienna (‘Vienna Blood’ and other classics) ^ #
35. Telemann – Baroque Masterpieces (‘Tafelmusik’ and other concerti with basso continuo) ^
39. Franck – Symphonic Variations (‘Symphonic Variations’; Symphony in D minor; and others) ^ #
41. C.P.E Bach – Baroque Masterpieces (various chamberworks) ^
43. Paganini – Instrumental Classics (Violin Concerto no.1 in D; others) ^
44. Handel – Instrumental Masterpieces (various Concerti Grossi) ^
45. Bruckner – Great Symphonies (Symphony no. 4 ‘Romantic’ in E flat) ^ #
46. Vivaldi – Harmonic Inspirations (‘L’estro Armonico’ concerti) ^
49. Monteverdi – Vocal Masterpieces (Madrigals of Love and War) #
50. Mendelssohn – Melodic Masterpieces (Overture to ‘Das Heimkehr aus der Fremde’; Symphony no.3 ‘Scottish’; etc) #
51. Scarlatti – Instrumental Masterpieces (various Sonatas for piano) #
57. Haydn – Classical Masterpieces (selection of String Quartets; Symphony no. 101 ‘The Clock’; and others) #
59. Beethoven – Romantic Masterpieces (Piano Concerto no.3 in C minor and others)
60. Schumann – Romantic Legends (Overture ‘Hermann und Dorothea’; Symphony no.4 in D minor; and others) #
62. Handel – Baroque Masterpieces (‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’; and others) #
65. J.S. Bach – Great Concertos (Double Violin Concerto and others) #
67. Haydn – Classical Masterpieces (Symphony no.100 in G ‘Military’; and others) #
68. Chopin – Romantic Genius (selection from ‘Nocturnes’; ‘Waltzes’ and others) #
69. Vivaldi – Instrumental Maestro (Mandolin Concerto and others)
71. Debussy – Poetic Impressions (Ballet music ‘Jeux’; and others)
72. Dvořák – Romantic Masterpieces (Cello Concerto in B minor and others)
73. Handel – Instrumental Masterpieces (Organ Concerto no.1; Concerto Grosso in A; and others)
76. Boccherini – Courtly Classics (Menuet and others)
77. Bruckner – A Symphonic Masterpiece (Symphony no.5 in B flat)
79. Telemann – Lyrical Masterpieces (Strings and basso continuo ‘Lyra’; Table Music) #
81. Stamitz – Classical Masterpieces – (Clarinet and Bassoon Double Concerto; and others) #
82. Haydn – Classical Masterworks (Flute and Oboe Concerto; and others)
84. Vivaldi – Baroque Masterworks (Flute Concerto; and others) #
87. J.S. Bach – Solo Masterworks (‘Goldberg’ Variations; and others)
91. Bizet – Sparkling Masterpieces (Agnus Dei; extracts from ‘Carmen’; Symphony in C; Petite Suite for Orchestra) #
92. Reger – Inspired Chamberworks (Cello Suite no.1; and others) #
93. Brahms – Pathos and Fire (Violin Concerto in D; selection from ‘Hungarian Dances’)
95. Weber – Virtuoso Lyricism (Overture ‘Abu Hassan’; Clarinet Concerto no.1 in F minor; Clarinet Quintet; and others)
98. Handel – Baroque Treasures (Concerto Grosso in G; Concerto Grosso in F; E and A)
99. Verdi – Vocal Highlights (N/A)
100. Romantic Chamber Music (N/A)
101. Golden Age of French Opera (N/A)
102. The Spirit of Russia (N/A)
103. Glories of the Italian Baroque (N/A)
104. The Rise of Romanticism (N/A)
105. The Genius of Italian Opera (N/A)
+ 3 special Christmas issues: –
i. Christmas 1 – A Celebration in Music (selection of Christmas Carols; Josef Bayer – The Fairy Doll Ballet Suite; Charles Gounod – Ave Maria; Tomasso Albinoni – Concerto in B flat; Wolfgang Mozart – Vesperae Solennes de Confessore K 339; Arcangelo Corelli – Concerto Grosso in G minor ‘Christmas’ op .6 no.8)
ii. Christmas 2 – ??? (selection of Christmas Carols; Johann Strauss I – Radetzky March; and others)
iii. Christmas 3 – ??? (N/A)
*Note (I don’t think that Malaysia ever received the Christmas 2 issue as when the time came to anticipate it, the old Christmas 1 issue made its way into stores again. Needless to say, Malaysia never even knew what was in Christmas 3 either.)
No collection is complete without binders to preserve its magazines. The publishers issued 2 types of these binders – the standard and the luxurious one. I’ve seen the standard binder on sale before but not the more expensive one. Neither looked impressive for me to warrant a purchase.
= Current Availability=
As you know, these magazines were distributed in a number of Commonwealth countries, such as Singapore; South Africa; New Zealand; Australia and Malaysia. It’d be an understatement to claim that the demand emanating from these countries for back issues would be few as it’s not only a very outdated collection but also targeted a limited worldwide audience.
If that is so, do try ebay or other bidding websites. Their prices are quite competitive and I think that it’s fair that you should pay somewhat more for something precious and as a part of an extensive collection. Unfortunately, the Classical Collection items sold over ebay has also quite dwindled and you’d really have to try your luck and besides, most of them are not exactly interesting stuff such as another Baroque collection or another Telemann album (ugh).
Another alternative – try asking your friends or your friends’ friends. Many of my pals did pick up a copy or two without really committing to serious collecting during its heyday. They may have just the copies you require. If your negotiation skills are good enough, you may be lucky enough to acquire the odd issue or two which you think you may need from someone’s house which you’ve just visited. They may even thank you for clearing their store-room for them. Just don’t expect their CDs/tapes to be in near perfect condition after so many years or that their books are not chewed on by their dogs or cats. By the way, also look out for the fungus on tapes – they’re really useless if it ever came to that stage and that’s why I thought that collecting CDs late in its circulation was ideal for album preservation despite the attractive slimline cassette case and the high-quality chrome dioxide tape.
If you’re not so fussy, there are a host of fancy imitators which have tried to emulate the collection (without the magazine of course) but these discs are legitimate copies published under a different cover but has the same performers and even music arrangements. In Malaysia, try Victoria Music Centre at Amcorp Mall or their Damansara Jaya branch for these rarities. I can’t promise anything but I’ve picked up a redesigned cover of Handel’s issue no. 6 and the Johann Strauss issue no.8 as of August 1997 – all with the exact same music selection and performers but no book. In the UK, I found a second-hand store which do not sell the Classical Collection but sold the same recordings released by the record studio. It’s easy to spot them – they have the same conductors like Anton Nanut or Alfred Scholz and also have the same orchestras like the Philharmonia Slavonica or the Wiener Volksoper Orchester. These CDs were released under the label of ‘forum’ without the capital letter.
I won’t hold my breath on the next suggestion, but I’d also try out second hand magazine stores which handles lots of old magazines. I haven’t encountered any such stores but hey, you never know.
If none of these work, try setting up a petition to the publishers and see what comes off it. I think that a good deal of collectors would still love to acquire more of these, especially those who missed out on the earlier issues when it was quite hot property.
* The collection could have been a lot more extensive – Brahms was missing his 1st; 3rd and 4th Symphonies; Beethoven had his Symphony no. 2 in D listed in the Deutsche Austrophon catalogue and there’s even no Symphony no. 9 at all! Mozart has many more works which deserve a run-in; and many more composers such as Gabriel Fauré; Franz Lehár etc. has an interesting body of work attributed to the aforementioned catalogue but did not even have issues dedicated to them.
I think that the last 6 issues or so are rehash of some finer works which couldn’t fill up enough of CD/tape space for one composer alone – so it has to be a potpourri of them. By issue 100, I also believe that the editors have thought of calling it a day and decide to end the venture in issue 105. The public interest in these magazines have probably fallen so low that the supply of cassettes/CDs far outweigh the sales and many more back issues would find their way back to the warehouses.
As you’ll notice, the selection of works aren’t too bad even in the 70s to the 90s but there are far too little “killer songs” to revive the interest. It may even be probable that the inclusion of so many mediocre-rated to poor stuff such as the Telemann works and the boring Haydn concertos added to the decline as did the perpetual Concerto Grosso of Handel and Vivaldi. Even I can’t tell the goddamn difference between Baroque composers and more so of their lesser-known pieces, so I thought that they should’ve done away with that overload of flute and cello chamberworks unless the publishers were thinking of introducing the Classical Collection as a sleep-inducing collection.
I admit that I really disliked the following issues – 41, 44, 62, 79 and 92 because I really think that some chamberworks are really just plain unimaginative and insulting to the pleasure-craving mind. Some Baroque exposure at the beginning was great as in issues 5, 6 and 10 but I feel that the last issues were really going overboard with their flat as pancake Baroque instrumentation and melody. I’d have a wishlist of my own but I think that I’d really only like around 10 or so cover-up acquisitions instead of aiming to complete the collection as I do think that the series, which began brilliantly, got really sloppy towards the end.
For the most part, the Classical Collection is a pleasurable read and its CDs or tapes are good enough for a trip down memory lane on any good sound machine. The write-up and the pictures are often colourful and witty and the editors really outdo themselves in some issues, such as but not limited to, the no. 52; no. 53; no. 68, no. 83 and no. 90 with the perfect blend of visuals and text to describe the moods of the pieces featured. Some efforts were clearly slipshod work like the recycling of materials on a stretch of a few issues and many historical inaccuracies are easily discovered. If you can get past these and some more obvious embellishment for dramatic effect, then this is a magnificent partwork.
I’m quite sure that there won’t be any reissue of this collection in the foreseeable future, but wouldn’t mind restarting collection if it does. My final acquired issue stands at issue no. 83; 84 and 87 collectively and not issue 94 – although it was the final issue to be sold in Malaysia. As of September 1997, no newsagents in Malaysia carry even a hint of a back issue any longer.
In closing, I do think that everyone involved in the pre and post-production stage of this magazine collection was genuinely enthusiastic about making this collection an unqualified success, at least at the beginning. Somewhere along the way, the selection of music appeared to have stagnated on some reason only known to the publisher – there simply wasn’t a great deal of interesting music/composers featured.
The fact that Malaysia only started to receive copies of the magazine in mid-1993 speaks as much as the publishers’ intention that this country be the dumping ground for something which they feel has bumped into a stumbling block somewhere along the way. I believe that when Malaysians started on the 1st issue, the publishers were already busy with the Schumann or the Haydn issues in 15 and 16 respectively. There are many exciting projects underway but I do feel that the disparity between the distribution practice in both Malaysia and in the UK led to some inexplicable delays which may have dulled the anticipation for this magazine. If there was any enthusiast eagerly checking out bookstores in an almost fanatical display of loyalty, that would be me and I find it insulting that some issues simply escaped being issued in Malaysia.
I wouldn’t think that most people are drawn towards these sort of music collections in this day and age. The BBC Music magazine in Malaysia which features music performed by the BBC Orchestra was severely overpriced in Malaysia and I’ve never seen any more issues being sold here as of early 1997. Much earlier, Marshall-Cavendish’s ‘The Great Composers’ series were also sold locally. Soon, the magazines got separated from the CDs and the tapes and newsvendors took liberty to cash in on a wasted investment by selling it separately, something which most magazine publishers have expressly disclaimed in the contrary. So, you could see stacks of these CDs in one corner of the shop together with The Classical Collection and Orbis Publishing’s other works such as the Musicals Collection and the Blues Collection. Their target audience are simply not the sort of demographics who would mind spending close to RM11 for something mass-produced and may contain second rate recordings. It didn’t help that most newsagents simply dumped these magazines like a pile of cheap broadsheets or the Chinese gossip tabloids.
Having said that – the Classical Collection was and probably still is, a useful learning tool for classical music education for all. If not for this Collection, I won’t know if my interest in classical music would have achieved the heights it did and helped me sustain interest to even perform music in public. This much, I owe to the Classical Collection. I know it may sound funny, but having collected the magazine for years in 1994 to 1996, my mind would automatically scan around the store interiors for this magazine and for new issues and would curse the old issue still sitting idle there.