Take Scarlatti. His complete keyboard works, played by the late Scott Ross, amount to (I believe) 460 works and I have the 16 CDs (could be more) which cover them. To my eternal shame I have only listened to a tiny proportion.
Shostakovich wrote fifteen string quartets. I have them all, confusingly by the Shostakovich Quartet, and as a late convert to old Dimitri I have played them several times. Great music but to save my life I couldn’t say to an apostle “Number four’s the one to get you started.” because they’re not separate in my mind.
I suffer from two related curses: (a) being comfortably off, and (b) the boxed set.
Faced with poverty and a love of Haydn I started off buying the symphonies two or three at a time on single CDs. In retrospect I’m glad I did. As a result of this gradual accumulation I can identify the The Surprise, The Clock and half a dozen others. Had I bought the boxed set (ie, 100-plus symphonies) I’d have risked blurring their individuality. I mean, where do you start?
Boxed sets are tempting because it’s comforting to know you have the lot. But they need treating with care; ideally one should choose and play just one work and then switch off. But human nature says: “Let’s just allow this marvellous stuff to play on.”
Boxed sets also tend to lock you into one source. OK in some instances, not in others. I’ll get around to that later.