Sweet suite sounds

Perhaps the best sheet-music purchase I ever made was a copy of Bach’s 6 suites for solo cello, arranged for viola.

As I recall, I bought this music about 15 years ago, shortly after I’d acquired a viola. That particular instrument purchase came about, I think, largely because a handful of friends (two other violinists and a cellist) and I wanted to form a string quartet and I was the most willing of the violinists to take up the viola (or perhaps I just wanted an excuse to buy a new toy). The quartet only lasted for about one rehearsal, but my viola has given me (and occasionally others) many hours of enjoyment over the years since then.

I’m not sure if I was at all familiar with the cello suites before I got the music for them, although I was certainly already very keen on the music of Johann Sebastian “Mighty” Bach (as he’s called by Organ Morgan in Under Milkwood). I have also got a copy of the sheet music for Bach’s solo violin sonatas and partitas, but I find the cello suites much closer to being within my technical range. In fact, if I had to choose just one instrument and one set of music to take with me to a desert island, my viola and the cello suites would be a strong contender.

Over the years I have mostly played suites 1 and 3, as these were the ones I found most accessible (largely, I suspect, because they were in relatively friendly keys – G major and C major respectively – and written for a standard cello (or viola) in standard tuning), and I can play the majority of both these suites fairly well. I’ve more or less got the hang of playing suites 2 and 4 (in D minor and Eb major) as well, though I’m somewhat less familiar with those. However, I’ve barely attempted the final two suites.

Suite 6 (in D major) was originally written, as far as can be made out, for a 5-stringed piccolo cello with an extra E string above the usual four (CGDA), and while it’s possible to play it on a standard instrument it goes uncomfortably high. Apparently it’s not too bad on a modern cello, but it is a bit more awkward on the viola especially, if, like me, you’re not too fond of playing in higher positions. (Incidentally, that reminds me of my favourite viola joke, which happens to be in German and is sadly just about impossible to make funny in translation.) My edition does include a version transposed into G major, which puts it into an easier range, but even so I’m not sure I’ve ever tried to play it all the way through – though I intend to give it a try sometime soon. One day, perhaps, I’ll get myself a 5-string fiddle and be able to tackle it in the original key.

The problem with suite 5 (in C minor) is different in that it is written for a standard four-stringed instrument but calls for a non-standard tuning. In classical parlance, this is called scordatura, whereas the same idea also crops up in many folk fiddle traditions and is sometimes known there as cross-tuning. I have a handful of fiddle tunes I tend to play in various cross tunings (usually ADAE, AEAE or sometimes AEAC#) but I’ve never really attempted to play classical music in scordatura tunings. The one called for by this cello suite is to drop the pitch of the highest string by a tone (giving CGDG). Other scordatura tunings I can think of for classical pieces are the solo violin in Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre (dropping the E string to Eb; though I’ve only ever played the orchestral 1st violin part myself, which is in standard tuning) and the solo viola part of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, which is written in D (with all the strings tuned up a semitone for a more brilliant tone), against the orchestra and solo violin playing in Eb.

There are, as far as I can make out, two basic purposes for scordatura tunings (and, equally, for cross tunings in the folk world). One is to facilitate playing chords etc. that would be more difficult in the standard tuning. The other is to give a different tone quality, either by allowing more open strings to resonate with the notes being played on other strings or just by virtue of having some or all strings pitched higher or lower than normal (or by a combination of both). In the cases where I’ve seen folk tunes notated for playing in cross-tunings, the notes have generally been written at pitch and it’s been up to the performer to adjust the fingering to fit the tuning of the strings (which is not too difficult for the relatively straightforward tunes that usually occur in this context). The usual practice for scordatura, by contrast, seems to be to write the notes that you would be playing in standard tuning (with the specific string to be played indicated if it’s not clear from the context). For example in the Bach cello suite, notes above a top-line (in alto clef) A natural are to be played on the A-string unless otherwise noted, and these notes come out a tone lower because you’ve tuned the string down to G. In theory this makes reading quite straightforward, but it does produce some strange looking intervals.

I think it’s largely this disparity between the written notes and the sounded notes that has put me off trying scordatura tuning, since I’m not averse to retuning my fiddle (or banjo / guitar) strings in general. Therefore I’m not sure that until yesterday I’ve ever actually tried playing the original version of Bach’s 5th suite. As with no. 6, my edition includes a version for standard tuning and I’ve given that a shot a few times but always found it relatively awkward to play and not all that wonderful sounding compared to the first four suites (although I’ve always enjoyed listening to recordings of the 5th suite just as much, if not more than the others).

Yesterday I finally got round to trying the scordatura version of suite 5 and was pleasantly surprised both at how easy it was to play (both to wrap my head round the gap between the fingerings and the pitches and to reach many of the chords and runs that I’d previously found very awkward in the other version of this suite) and how good it sounded – with the lowered string and some fuller chords giving it a wonderfully rich, resonant sound. It’s going to take a fair amount of practice to get some of the trickier bits up to speed but I can see this one becoming my favourite of the cello suites to play as well as to listen to.

I can’t recall there being any other pieces in my library of violin or viola music that call for scordatura tuning and which I’ve therefore been avoiding playing but if I do come across any in future I certainly won’t shy away from giving them a shot (at least if they call for lowering the pitch of the strings – I’m always more nervous about tuning strings above pitch than below).

Blues on Bach

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (or have explored its archives), or if you have ever seen my CD collection or my last.fm library, you may have noticed that I’m quite a fan of the music of Johann Sebastian “Mighty” Bach (bonus points if you pick up the literary reference there!) and also of jazz.

I have noticed quite often over the years how jazzy some of Bach’s music is.  My favourite example is the opening of Prelude No. 1 in C (BWV846) from the 48.  It basically consists of a bunch of broken chords but if you analyse the chord progression it is full of major sevenths and other chords that are usually more at home in a jazz setting than a classical one (in case you’re wondering, the first 8 bars are, ignoring inversions, C, Dm7, G7, C, Am, D7, G, Cmaj7).

It is, perhaps, therefore not surprising that several musicians over the years have sought to interpret Bach’s music in a more overtly jazzy style, nor that I enjoy listening to these jazz interpretations.

Quite probably the most famous is Jacques Loussier, a jazz pianist who devoted a large proportion of his career to playing jazz arrangements of Bach’s music.  I have a compilation album drawn from several of his original albums on this theme, which I love listening to.

The only other album I have of explicitly Bach-inspired jazz is by the Modern Jazz Quartet and is entitled Blues on Bach.  I have had this album for several years and played it quite a few times but only fairly recently noticed one particular feature of it.  The album has 9 tracks, all based more-or-less closely on Bach’s works.  Five of them have relatively whimsical titles that give some clue as to which piece they are built on (such as “Precious Joy”, which is a reworking of “Jesu, joy of man’s desiring”).  The other four are entitled Blues in X, where X is the key of the blues.  These are also based, fairly loosely, on Bach themes.

The keys are Bb (or B as it is called in German musical terminology), A minor, C minor and B (or H, as it appears in German) and the order of them, interspersed as they are between the other tracks, is no accident for – lo and behold! – they spell: BACH!

Incidentally, I’ve long harboured a suspicion that the German tradition of calling the notes B and H instead of Bb and B may have arisen from Bach wanting to be able to spell his own name musically, since the sequence A B H C D E F G (+ accidentals) seems considerably less logical than A B C D E F G (both in the placement of H out of sequence and the fact that that one should get its own name whereas other semitones have to be content with being called x-sharp or y-flat).  However, I’ve been unable to discover any hard evidence one way or the other (such as attested use of the note names before Bach’s time).  The Wikipedia article on musical notation doesn’t mention that possibility and indicates that the origin of the practice is unknown, suggesting it may be due to a resemblance between the letters b and h in Gothic script (see the article for quite a bit more detail).

Hammering on

The past few months seem to have been a time for me to re-examine and, to a large extent, reject some of my long-held musical opinions and prejudices.

I’ve recently mentioned that I’ve been getting into both opera and ballet, having concluded that while I still think seeing them live is the best way to encounter them, there is plenty of enjoyment to be had from exploring them via DVD and CD.

Another opinion I have recently revised is what I think of the use of pianos for music originally written for  harpsichords or other keyboard instruments.  I have always preferred to listen to music on the “authentic” instruments it was written for, and still do to a large extent. In the case of keyboard music (for example Bach’s preludes and fugues, originally written for harpsichord) I have, until not very long ago, tended to avoid listening to them on piano.  That is to say, I haven’t gone out of my way to avoid hearing them but certainly would never have chosen the piano as a vehicle for them or wanted to get any piano versions into my own music library.

The fundamental thing that changed my opinion on this matter was actually listening more carefully to some fine piano performances of music written before pianos existed.

One of the first of these was an album of Glenn Gould playing keyboard works by William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons.  I got this, a couple of years ago, mainly because I wanted to listen to some of Gould’s work as he was a very famous pianist (and one who seemed to have a somewhat divided critical reputation).  He was particularly noted as an interpreter of Bach’s keyboard music, but I think I read somewhere that Gibbons was his own favourite composer (I’ve certainly come across that statement more recently), or perhaps I chose this album as it was the cheapest of his that I could find or because I already had quite a lot of Bach – on harpsichord, of course! – but not much Byrd or Gibbons.  In any case, I soon decided that while the sound of the piano may not have been what these composers had in mind for their music, it certainly worked well enough and I rather liked Gould’s interpretations.  I have yet to get round to listening to much of his Bach work but I would certainly like to.

The other main cause of my listening to piano versions of early keyboard music was the discovery of several online sources of free recordings of classical keyboard music, most of which was played on piano, that enabled me to explore some music that I wanted to check out without having to pay for the privilege.  I decided that, at least to start with, I’d rather listen to a free recording of, for example, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach’s keyboard sonatas on piano than pay for a version on harpsichord (aside from the fact that W. F. Bach probably would have had access to a piano, at least later in his life).

The main repositories I’ve been enjoying have been the Piano Society website (featuring recordings, mostly on piano but with a few on harpsichord or organ, by its members) and that of an Italian piano teacher called Claudio Colombo (featuring his own recordings on a digital piano).

In addition to some pieces that I’ve only been able to find (at least for free) on the piano, I’ve listened to piano versions of several pieces that I’ve also heard on the harpsichord, such as Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier” (aka “The 48”).  On balance I’ve decided that, while I’d still choose the harpsichord version if it was a straight-up choice between the two (i.e. I could only pick one of them and there were no other factors such as particularly nice album cover art to sway a decision), the piano is a perfectly good instrument for playing earlier keyboard music and it’s actually good to be able to hear the same pieces played on different instruments as the different sonorities tend to bring out different details in the music (it’s a bit like listening to two different performers/groups playing on the same kind of instruments, where you get to enjoy the nuances of their differing interpretations, only more so!).

So, once again, it appears that my (already fairly broad) musical horizons are expanding, which I think can only be to the good.  There remain a few genres of music that don’t greatly interest me (for example, hip hop, although I am a big fan of the related genre of chap hop, especially as performed by Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer).  Of course, given my recent experiences with opera, ballet and the use of pianos for early keyboard music, I’d hesitate before claiming that I’ll never be interested in any given type of music.

Heavenly Music

Today is Ascension Day. This gave me a convenient excuse to add to my music library another of J. S. Bach’s works – his Ascension Oratorio.

Until earlier this year, I was unaware of the existence of this piece, although I am fairly familiar with many of his liturgical works including his Christmas and Easter Oratorios.  Nicholas Kenyon, in his Faber Pocket Guide to Bach, described the Ascension Oratorio as “outstanding among [Bach’s sacred oratorios]”, so I was keen to check it out.

The Ascension Oratorio appears in the standard (thematically-organised) Bach catalogue as BWV11, which puts it squarely among the cantatas.  However, Bach himself described it as Oratorium Festo Ascensionis Christi (“an oratorio for the feast of Christ’s ascension), so this would appear to be an occasion when Schmeider’s classification broke down slightly.  Having said that, I’m not entirely sure what the difference between an oratorio and a cantata is anyway.  From the sound of the ones I’ve listened to (including clearly recognised oratorios — the aforementioned Christmas and Easter ones — and cantatas — such as Ein feste Burg (BWV 80) and Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (BWV 147; the one in which the famous and absolutely beautiful tune “Jesu, joy of man’s desiring” appears) — by Bach), I think the difference must be fairly subtle.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Ascension Oratorio comes bundled with the Easter Oratorio on many albums.  Since I already had a copy of the other work, I decided to look for an Ascension Oratorio recording that came with other pieces I didn’t already have.  I managed to find one by the English Baroque Soloists (directed by John Eliot Gardiner), together with 3 other Ascension cantatas (BWV 37, 43 and 128 – these ones seem to be unanimously recognised as cantatas).  This is, I gather, a well-respected group of Bach performers and they also happen to be the performers on my recording of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, which I was impressed by (my Easter Oratorio is performed by the Gabrieli Consort & Players, with Paul McCreesh; that is also an excellent performance).

The Ascension Oratorio is somewhat shorter than either the Easter or Christmas ones (my recording lasts just under half an hour; by contrast the Easter one is about 45 minutes and the Christmas one, as I recall, a couple of hours), which may perhaps be why it is sometimes considered to be a cantata instead.  Regardless of length, it is a very beautiful piece of music.  I’m glad to have made its acquaintance and look forward to getting to know it much better.  The cantatas are lovely too.

I have never yet had the opportunity to perform any of Bach’s sacred works (unless you count a solo mandolin arrangement of “Jesu, joy of man’s desiring”) but I did once take part in an Ascension Day service with the Crockenhill String Orchestra, in which we played a mass by Mozart.  Unfortunately, because it was at least 18 (and possibly 19) years ago, I can’t remember all the details but I do recall that it was at a church somewhere in Beckenham and it took place on Ascension Day itself (a Thursday, as always).  I’m not sure which of Mozart’s masses  we played (he wrote quite a few); I have a vague recollection that it might have been in G major (which would make it K49 – his earliest one) but it could just as easily have been in C major or C minor (which together account for most of his other masses) and I suspect that even if I heard the piece again I probably wouldn’t recognise it.  I had been under the impression that it was a mass specifically written for Ascension Day, but I can find no trace of any such work by Mozart so I assume I was mistaken.

This was a service rather than a concert, and it was my first (and so far only, as far as I can recall) experience of worship in a high Anglican church.  This style of worship is often characterised as “bells and smells” and although I don’t recall any notable use of bells they did certainly make heavy use of incense, to the extent that at times it was almost impossible to see the music on my stand (about 2 feet away from my face) due to the thick smoke.  We joined forces with a choir and another orchestra (or at least we had some additional musicians – I don’t know if they were a group in their own right).  I remember that there was a rather lovely young (as in, about the same age as me at the time, i.e. 18 or so) cellist called Hannah, with whom I got on very well.  Sadly we didn’t manage to stay in contact after the gig.

Following in Father’s Footsteps

I may have mentioned once or twice on this blog that Bach is my favourite composer.

Of course, the Bach I’m referring to is Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).  He was one, albeit easily the most highly regarded (and talented), of a large family of musicians and composers.  I have recently been exploring the work of some of the other members of the family.

Johann Sebastian Bach was apparently, referred to as Sebastian by family and friends — probably largely because about half the other men in the family also had Johann as their first name.  I will adopt the same practice here.

Almost certainly the next most famous member of the family after Sebastian himself was his son Carl Philipp Emanuel (1714-1788).  He was the fifth child of Sebastian and his first wife, Maria Barbara.  CPE Bach became a very respected composer in his own right (counting Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms among his admirers), and produced a large body of work.  He wrote in a more modern style than his father and was a very influential figure in the transition from baroque to classical music (in the narrower sense of the term – the period between baroque and romantic, roughly 1730-1820 – rather than a catch-all term for any post-renaissance “art” music).  The bulk of CPE Bach’s music was catalogued by Alfred Wotquenne in 1906 and is identified by Wq number.  A revised catalogue, featuring many works not in Wotquenne’s catalogue (and possibly dumping a few spurious ones that were?), was produced by Eugene Helm in 1989, so CPE’s works are now also identified by H number and I gather this is the preferred catalogue to use.  For quite a while I have had a recording of his Variations on “Les Folies” on an album of music by the Dolmetsch Ensemble; it is a keyboard piece, played on the clavichord on my copy; the sleeve notes didn’t give much detail but I assume this is H263 (Wq 118:9): 12 Variationen über die Folie d’Espagne. More recently, I have been listening to his cello concertos (Wq 170-172 or H432, 436 and 439), which (although I’m not yet very familiar with them) appear to be fine works in their genre.

At this point I should digress to mention that Sebastian Bach’s works are catalogued in the Bach Werke Verzeichnis – literally “Bach Works Catalogue” – of Wolfgang Schmieder (originally published in 1950 and subsequently revised) and given BWV numbers.  Nicholas Kenyon, in the Faber Pocket Guide to Bach (a very handy little reference book, I might add), remarks that “unlike other more egotistical cataloguers of composers, Schmeider did not want his own name used as an abbreviation”.

Several of Sebastian Bach’s other children were also quite musical and more than one of them became composers.  The only one whose music I’ve so far managed to get to listen to is Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann (1710–1784).  Like his father, he was a renowned improviser at the keyboard (specifically, the organ) and a talented composer, although he seems not to have written nearly so much as his father or younger brother (or at least, a lot less of his work survives) and he did not make such a big impact on posterity.  His works, as far as I can make out, were catalogued by Martin Falck in 1919 and are described by F numbers.  I have been listening to some of his keyboard sonatas (F1-F9), played on a digital piano by Claudo Colombo and available as free downloads from his website (which also has plenty of other freely available classical keyboard music, all played on piano).

It was not only Sebastian and his sons that were musical.  Amongst the many other musical members of the family, I have fairly recently acquired a CD of cantatas by Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703), who was Sebastian’s first cousin once removed (i.e. he was the cousin of Sebastian’s father, (Johann) Ambrosius).  Apparently Christoph was held in high regard by Sebastian.  As far as I can make out, there is no standard catalogue of his works.  There is liable to be some confusion as there was at least one other Johann Christoph in the Bach family tree (one of Ambrosius’ brothers — to make matters even more confusing, they had another brother called Georg Christoph), not to mention Sebastian’s similarly named son, Johann Christoph Friedrich.

I have enjoyed listening to the music of these other three representatives of the Bach clan and I hope to be able to track down some more of their works, as well as those of some other members of the family, before too long.  Incidentally, if you find the multiplicity of Bachs confusing, the Wikipedia page on the Bach Family has a family tree diagram that might help.

My first millenium

Today is a significant day for my last.fm listening stats, as I have finally reached 1000 plays for one of the artists in my library.

Unsurprisingly the holder of this distinction is none other than Johann Sebastian “Mighty” Bach (to borrow the epithet bestowed on him by Organ Morgan in Under Milk Wood).  Although the last.fm stats don’t represent the entirety of my music listening history (I listened to plenty of music before last.fm came into existence and quite a lot of my listening is still offline and therefore unscrobbled), I think in this case it’s probably reasonably accurate since Bach is my favourite classical (or, if you want to be pedantic, baroque) composer and some of his music is my favourite music in any genre, therefore I do listen to a lot of Bach.

Bach has been in first place on my last.fm chart for quite a long time, and is likely to remain there for quite some time.  The number two spot, equally long-lasting in both directions, is held by Ludwig van Beethoven, my other favourite classical (or romantic, for the pedants) composer.  It probably won’t be very too long before he also reaches 1000 plays in my library.

The third place is perhaps slightly more surprising as it is held by Laïs, described on last.fm as a Flemish folk group although I wouldn’t describe their sound as particularly straight folk music.  I’m not sure exactly how I would describe it (folk-pop is a possibility, although I don’t think that does it justice) but it’s a sound I like very much, particularly in their earlier albums.  Laïs itself is an all-female a cappella trio, although they are accompanied by a band on most of their tracks.

Coming in fourth place is Jethro Tull, with Norwegian Hardanger fiddle player Annbjørg Lien in fifth place.  Perhaps it’s slightly surprising that the first jazz artist doesn’t appear until sixth place on my list, but less surprising that it’s Thelonious Monk who takes this place, as he’s definitely my favourite jazz cat and I have several of his albums (with plenty more available to listen to on Spotify).

The next appearance of a classical composer is Johannes Brahms, currently in 11th place.  Going by the thumbnail photo of him that is currently adorning the library icon (and has been for quite a while, although they do sometimes change), he would definitely head my chart of most impressive beards to be seen on last.fm

Of course, the last.fm library charts only indicate how many plays of tracks by a given artist have been scrobbled (i.e. recorded to the last.fm database) and not even how many times I’ve actually listened to each artist, let alone how highly I value their music.  Still, if I could pick one musician from all of history to have a jam with, I couldn’t think of any better choice than J. S. Bach.

Multiple Choice

Most classical music that is available in recorded form, unless it is very new or very obscure, is available in several (or sometimes very many) different recordings by different artists (or perhaps by the same artists at different times, which Heraclitus would tell us amounts to much the same thing).  This means that you are usually confronted with a, sometimes bewilderingly wide, choice when shopping for classical music.

My usual approach, unless I’ve heard (or heard about) a particular performance that I want to get, is similar to the way I go about  buying wine – look for something cheap with a nice label.  In the case of music, this translates to nice cover art on the album, although there are some record labels such as Naxos that I’m generally confident will give me  a decent recording towards the lower end of the budget spectrum. If I’m buying online (which is where I do pretty much all my music shopping these days), I’ll also look for reviews and let them help inform my choice.

Fitting in with this relative lack of concern for who is actually performing the music, I find my preference is to fill my classical music library mostly with a wide variety of different pieces rather than getting multiple copies of the same works performed by different artists.  On the other hand, sometimes – more often by accident than design – I do end up with several copies of the same work.

Usually this comes about because I’ve already got a copy of something but the best way I can find to get a copy of something else I want is to get it bundled with the thing I’ve already got.  For instance, I already had a recording of Bach’s Magnificat in D (BWV 243; performed by the Schola Cantorum of Oxford and the  Northern Chamber Orchestra, on the Naxos label; coupled with Vivaldi’s Gloria RV589) but, when I came to look for a recording of his Easter Oratorio (BWV 249), the most attractive option I could find (which probably means the cheapest available that had reasonable reviews) came bundled with another Magnificat performance, this time by the Gabrieli Consort & Players (released on DG Archiv).   The Magnificat happens to be one of my favourite Bach works, and he’s my all-time favourite composer, so it was no great hardship to have two versions of it in my library.

I can only think of two occasions so far when I’ve deliberately acquired a second version of music I’ve already got (excluding things I had on tape, as I’ve tried to replace most of those with CD or MP3 copies for greater convenience).  Both were with the works of Beethoven.

The first was his symphony cycle.  I got a boxed set, mostly performed by the Ljubljana Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Anton Nanut (although two of them are by the Slovak Philharmonic with a couple of different conductors), back in about 1992.  Apart from the opening two chords of the Eroica symphony, which I always felt to be slightly weedy in this version (certainly compared with the lush recording on the old tape I had of it performed, IIRC, by the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan), I am perfectly happy with this set.  I’m sure it’s not the definitive Beethoven symphony cycle recording, if such a thing exists, but it’s good enough for me.

However, when I found a copy of Beethven’s symphonies performed by Roger Norrington and the London Classical Players (which I remember watching on TV back in the 1980s, shortly after they were recorded) going for a very reasonable price a few years ago, I snapped them up.  Not only had I (correctly) remembered the Norrington performances as having been excellent but these were pioneers of what, as I recall, was at the time called authentic performance and is now generally referred to as historically informed performance (or HIP) — i.e. they used instruments such as natural trumpets and gut-strung fiddles and aimed to recreate performance practices as they would have been in Beethoven’s own day (such as smaller ensembles and generally faster tempos).  As such, the Norrington recording represented quite a different approach to the works to that taken by the Ljubljana Symphony / Slovak Philharmonic, which stuck to more traditional modern performance practices and instruments (if you’ll forgive the, hopefully intelligible, oxymoron). As a fringe benefit, I also got duplicate copies of 3 of Beethoven’s overtures (Egmont, Coriolan and Prometheus), since these were included in the Norrington set and I already had them on an album of Beethoven overtures performed by Kurt Masur and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig.

The other work which I purposely bought in two separate versions was Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (Op. 123).  Again I have a “modern-style” recording by Otto Klemperer with the New Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra and a more HIP style one by John Eliot Gardiner with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists.  In this case, I can’t remember which one I got first, but I do recall getting the second one as a deliberate contrast to the first.  I enjoy both versions very much, although I’ve not sat down and carefully compared them head to head.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given how much more of their work I have than any other composers, most of the duplicates in my classical music collection come in the works of Bach and Beethoven (my third favourite, and probably third best represented, is Brahms but I don’t think I yet have more than one copy of anything by him).  However, the single most duplicated piece I have is the Mandolin concerto in C, RV425, by Antonio Vivaldi, of which I have three copies (as well as the sheet music – the solo part is actually quite playable).  One is by Musici di San Marco (dir.  Alberto Lizzio), on a budget label CD of Vivaldi concertos on authentic instruments that I picked up years ago.  Another is by Il Giardino Armonico on a collection of Vivaldi’s mandolin and lute concertos (or rather, concertos featuring those instruments), which I got last year mainly for the Concerto in G for 2 mandolins, RV 532 (when I was getting more seriously into mandolin playing) and the final version came on the CD accompanying the book The Complete Mandolinist by Marilynn Mair (an excellent tutor book, somewhat biased towards classical mandolin playing, and also the source of my sheet music for the Vivaldi concerto).

It is certainly good to listen to different versions of the same piece from time to time, in order to hear different nuances of the music brought out by the different interpretations.  As they say in France, vive la difference!