Top Ear

(Mostly) Delightful Discoveries: A Stroll in Mong Kok’s CD Stores

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Jeremy Lee writes

To celebrate the end of my exams, concluding with a hurrah of a Chemistry paper, and also to get rid of some of the CDs I didn’t want, I decided this morning to do a bit of window-shopping at Mong Kok’s CD stores.  Before I was a music buff as I am now, I only knew about Win Win and Shun Cheong Records as the “only two” record stores there, but after today’s stroll I surely discovered quite a lot of gems as I never did before.

I arrived by bus at the entrance of Sino Centre at 10:15 in the morning, home to a good few number of 2nd-hand CD stores, only to find (unsurprisingly) that most of the stores were still closed.  To kill time, I found my way to Win Win, and much to my delight, it was open.  Rummaging through the shelves of the shop found me a few nice surprises:  Klemperer’s German Requiem on EMI Masters (the old version) for $75, a few very inexpensive EMI discs on the Encore and Red Line series (sadly nothing that I really wanted), along with a selection of attractive but perpetually expensive DG two-fers and Double Deccas.  (Bernstein’s Candide has been on my wanted list for ages, and I also wanted Bernstein’s Sibelius 1, 2, 5, 7 symphonies on the new DG Duo series and Solti’s Decca Mahler 4 and 5.)

As usual, there were quite a number of Universal box sets on sale, such as Kubelik and Sinopoli’s DG Mahler sets and Kertesz’s Dvorak, mostly at reasonable but not terribly special prices, with the exception of Chailly’s Beethoven set on Decca, which could be the most inexpensive I had ever seen at $310, though in my vague memory I remember seeing it in Times Square’s CD Warehouse at a price even cheaper than that.  Another special delight was Gordon Fergus-Thompson’s Penguin Rosette-winning Debussy piano music set of 4 CDs on Sanctuary Classics (the label that became of ASV) at a very attractive price of $198, though due to limited budget I didn’t buy it.

A small pleasantry was to find Plasson’s set of Honegger symphonies on EMI Gemini at $85.  I got my copy for $58 and as such I felt rather smug.

Having spent around half an hour in Win Win, I made my way back to Sino Centre, but stopped at Shun Cheong en route only to find that I had another half an hour before it was open.  At Sino Centre, I went to the few CD stores in the building:  all of them were closed, but one of the second-hand CD stores would open an hour later (at 12:20).  A classical-music only store on the 7th floor sounded attractive, but when I got there the faintly ridiculous prices of the Japanese-imported CDs–how does $1100 for a Dvorak 9th Symphony sound like?–sort of scared me off.

After killing some more time I returned to Shun Cheong, which was now open.  As a dealer of less common labels in Hong Kong, its showroom held the CDs of a trillion discs no common listener would really care about, and disappointingly those discs on obscure labels that I wanted were not there–no Bychkov Mahler 3 in the Avie section or Barshai Mahler 5 in the Brilliant Classics section, for instance.  There was a Buy-1-get-1-free section of stuff nobody would really want (mostly on the Oehms label with a few box sets dedicated to Masur) and the only really attractive thing I found was a variety of LPs for $20 which would make good room decorations for me (as I don’t have an LP player).  Even the Piano Classics (of course, Maltempo’s Alkan) section was bare and rather expensive ($120!!):  the Alkan hadn’t arrived yet, nor could I find Oppens’ Rzewski recording of the fascinating “The People United Will Never Be Defeated”.  Despite the barrenness of desirable items in the showroom you can ask them to order CDs for you although due to limited time and budget I didn’t bother doing so.

I spent the rest of time waiting for the second-hand CD shop to open reading Top Gear magazine (Lada is dead, long live Lada!) but was sidetracked as I found out that the basement level of the Sino Centre was home to yet a few more CD shops that were open.  Most of them were second-hand shops as well, and the first one that I went into had a dazzling array of old CDs all sold at 70% off.  Here, I found my most highly-wanted Messiaen Vingt Regards played by John Ogdon on Decca (which is now out of print individually–you can still get it as a set in Decca’s recent Messiaen piano box set), along with a spectacularly inexpensive Oue Candide on Reference Recordings (though I didn’t want the Oue very much).  Despite the discount the Ogdon set was still way out of my budget, and I hope when I return soon with a higher budget I will be able to buy it.

A few shops away was a counter for me to get rid of the CDs that I didn’t want at last.  They were Fibich’s Symphonies No. 1 and 2, Idil Biret’s Brahms Sonatas No. 1 and 2 and a selection of Grieg’s Lyric pieces, all on Naxos, as well as Karajan’s Mozart Requiem on Eloquence (which was what I reviewed earlier:  click here to read it).  Much to my dismay they would only buy it for $20–all 4 of them for $20, not $20 each!–but eventually I sold it and left the counter feeling really rather upset.

12:30 was approaching and I went up to the second-hand store which was now open.  It wasn’t attractive–I couldn’t find anything truly desirable there, but having said that the prices there, especially as compared to new ones, were just eye-poppingly low.  How do you fancy Herbert von Karajan’s Liszt Les Preludes and Mazeppa on DG originals, perfect save for a slightly scratched booklet–for $45?  Or some 2-CD opera sets for $65?  How about Celibidache’s Beethoven Symphonies 4 and 5 with the Munichers on EMI for less than $50?  The second-hand Japanese imports were also astoundingly cheap (though still pretty expensive!) and I also found a few of the new format Double Decca for $88–this included Solti’s Bach Mass, though I didn’t buy it.

Still feeling disappointed, I returned to Win Win where at last I found something I truly wanted at a low price–it was Karajan’s Mahler 5 for $85, and without really hesitating (albeit with the even less expensive Klemperer German Requiem in mind) I bought it.  But before I took the train home, there was just one last stop in an underground mall near Win Win–another CD store selling both new and second-hand CDs.  That CD shop embodied heaven and hell in CD shopping–heaven, in lots of extremely inexpensive Chinese-version classics such as Dutoit/Roge’s Saint-Saëns Piano Concertos on Double Decca for $75 (I would have bought it had I not purchased the Mahler 5), and hell, in ludicrously expensive Naxos and Eloquence discs.  I’ll give you three guesses.  Nope.  Wrong.  Still wrong.  You’ll have to give up because for that money you could buy yourself a new Decca Duo in Win Win–$110!!  (This further infuriated me because I felt ripped off selling my Naxos CDs for $5 apiece if one could buy it for $110.)

In sum, a bittersweet morning, but at least I knew where I could find good deals, and hopefully–once in a blue moon–I will be able to find something cheap in second-hand stores that I really want.

Author: Top Ear

Musical hooligans.

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