Today's Wall Street Journal has an article "Highbrow Lament: Classical-Music Fans Feel Slighted in Era of the iPod; The Problem of Audible Gaps" (subscription; also available here). It talks about the less than great selection, the audio catalogue tags that are less than accurate, and problems with gaps or clicks when playing a work with multiple tracks.
Kirk McElhearn has also recently written a Playlist article on classical music and iTunes, where he recommends using the join feature. Based on his advice, I tried it this weekend on a Terry Riley CD (combined into one worked albeit with the loss of individual track access--should I rip both ways?). I also plan to try his recommended open source software for merging tracks already ripped (I was not happy with some experimental tools). I will say, listening to 35+ tracks, one at a time via shuffle over the course of a month, from Rzewski's The People United
The Tracks United They Will Never Be Defeated!, was less than rewarding, so I want to solve this problem.
Regarding availability, the WSJ article reports VirginDigital (a Windows only, non-iPod service) has 70,000 classical tracks for purchase, compared to say, Musicmatch's 12,000. And, signs indicate market share for classical music may be substantially greater for downloads than with CDs. Still, selection is a problem. The article quotes Susan Graham, of all people:
"It's like the budget bin at a record store," says opera singer Susan Graham, who has searched sites like Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes for specific recordings of works such as Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer" or his "Ruckertlieder" but has come away empty-handed. ITunes's selection, she says, "was very mainstream, with only the most popular or generic offerings."
I checked and unfortunately, iTunes has a slender selection of Graham's music as well; mainly, a set of her performing songs by Ned Rorem, including Opus 101 from his Santa Fe Songs cycle.