Heavens, are we not all sufficiently grown up to enable us to decide for ourselves whether or not to further investigate a particular recording?
Part of my doubts about this - to my mind rather silly - label is that there are no clear criteria for determining what is, and what isn't, 'recommended'. Is it the work in question, or the performance of it, or its actual recording, or even other features of the 'product' (e.g. are the accompanying notes useful or illuminating or plain mundane, clearly printed, and in English etc)? These are all very different things, and I suspect that a 'recommended' label will simply fudge over them.
And what happens in the case of a recording of a work that is especially interesting on account of the performance but not its recording? For example, the current review of a Pristine Audio recording of Beethoven symphonies conducted by Mengelberg and Weingartner in 1926 and 1936. The reviewer here applauds this disc for providing "a fascinating look at bygone performance styles". The record company has clearly also done an excellent job of improving as best they can of such a vintage recording. But clearly the sound of such a recording is grossly inferior to a superbly recorded performance by the latest whizz kid on the podium. Does it not then fail to qualify as 'recommended' in spite of the fascination it provides?
And what of a truly sumptuous recording of a work where the actual performance of it is as dull as ditchwater? How do you propose to label that?
I also have concerns about a release of a hitherto unrecorded work where the performers, perhaps because there is no performance history, tend to play it safe? For example, the recent Dante Quartet recordings of the Stanford string quartets. I let out a loud whoopee when I first saw news of these recordings, and bought both discs on the day of their release. Hugely welcome they are and both very well played and recorded. However (and I say it reluctantly) maybe I would hesitate to label them 'recommended' because I can imagine in a few years time another quartet might come along (or the Dante Quartet on a return visit) and record a performance of the pieces that brings out features that the Dante didn't quite succeed in bringing out in these hugely welcome first recordings. And if the Dante recordings were given a 'recommended' would that label then be withdrawn if another more pleasing recording emerged?
What does give me some pain to think about is that our record companies struggle to sell sufficient copies of a CD to recover their costs, and if a recording doesn't achieve this mysterious 'recommended' status then the proverbial man on the Clapham omnibus, eager to fill his shelves with 'recommended' recordings, won't feel inclined to buy it. And then the number of new recordings will steadily dwindle down to a smaller number of allegedly 'recommended' recordings of probably very familiar works. I'd be interested to learn whether MusicWeb has sounded out record companies over this proposal. If, for example, I was Mr Lyrita I would be quite aghast at the idea of some recordings being labelled 'recommended' - all those many Richard Itter recordings of British music are of inestimable worth, but because of the nature of the original recording, many of them couldn't be truly said to be 'recommended' as recordings.
Enough said. We don't, I submit, need a 'recommended' label, and the label itself is surrounded by considerable fog. Just what does the label 'recommended' actually add to what the reviewer - and MusicWeb is fortunate to have high standards of reviewing - has already written in her or his review? Aren't we all sufficiently grown up to determine our own judgments on the worth of a recording in the light of what the reviewer has written?
Thank you for taking part in the MusicWeb International Forum.
Len Mullenger - Founder of MusicWeb