by Rick Krueger
By the mid-1990s, more classical music was being recorded and released worldwide than ever before. Sony’s purchase of CBS Records had triggered a spending frenzy, both by the new Sony Classical and its competitors Polygram, EMI, RCA and Warner. Occasional crossover chart smashes like The Three Tenors, Henryk Gorecki’s meditative Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, or the odd compilation of Gregorian chant had a glut of major and minor orchestras, choirs and ensembles chasing the next fluke hit — usually with A&R men breathing down their necks to justify the expense.
It was a mind-boggling time to be a classical collector. Bookstores like Barnes & Noble and appliance shops like Best Buy opened in smaller and smaller towns, with deeper and deeper stocks of CDs. Mall chains like Discount Records followed suit, and free-standing superstores like Tower Records went even deeper. Detroit’s local chain Harmony House had a dedicated all-classical store; nearby Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, had at least two or three at any given time. Whether hitting 28th Street on my day off in Grand Rapids, or driving east to visit family, I knew there would be something great to find no matter where I went — I just didn’t know what.