Quantity vs. Quality

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maestrob
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Quantity vs. Quality

Post by maestrob » Sun Mar 21, 2010 10:38 am

Like many older collectors here, I remember the days when the major companies barely released a dozen new titles in a three month period, all of very high quality. How times have changed! So much quantity, so little quality. I barely notice 4-6 new releases/mo. out of a total of 150 or so that are worth paying attention to.

I am really surprised that so many CDs of such mediocre quality get issued: is anyone actually making a living off all this junk, or are they all vanity projects :?: :?: :?:

THEHORN
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by THEHORN » Sun Mar 21, 2010 11:09 am

I'm not sure if I agree with you about the prevalence of "mediocre" recordings from the major labels tpoday. I've heard many,many superlative recordings from many different classical labels in recent years, not just the biggest.
And you can find mediocre recordings from every decade in the existence of classical recordings. I hear no evidence that the overall quality of performances has actually declined . And I've heard plenty of recordings going way back to the dawn of recorded art.
A recording by such legendary names as Stokowski, Furtwangler,Walter,Klemperer, Monteux,Munch,Beecham, Heifetz, Horowitz, Casals,
Callas, Flagstad, Schnabel, Kreisler, Rubinstein, etc, is NOT necessarily better than one by Levine,Barenboim, Muti, Ma, Ax, Fleming, Terfel, Heppner, Perlman, Kremer, etc.
And in certain ways we classical CD collectors have it better than ever.
We can now hear an infinitely wider variety of repertoire than record collectors have ever been able to choose from.
50 or 60 years ago, you could not find recordings of so many interesting works by composers such as Nielsen,Myaskovsky, Berwald, Ives, Hindemith, Bax, Roussel,
Dvorak,Janacek,Martinu, Smetana,Szymanowski, Stenhammar, Busoni, Brian,
Taneyev, Pfitzner, Hanson, Elgar, Fibich, Schreker, Zemlinsky, Schoeck,
Schulhoff, Schmidt and many other composers which are so easily available today.
These works had not even been recorded yet, even though they had been written.
And there is plenty of music by important living or recently deceased composers as Carter,Boulez,Henze,Stockhausen, Glass, Adams, Corigliano, Saariaho, Gubaidullina, Messiaen, Lutoslawski, Birtwistle, Golijov, and so many others.
Let's count our blessings !





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maestrob
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by maestrob » Sun Mar 21, 2010 11:20 am

Hi, THEHORN.

Yes, I'm not saying that modern performers are less great than the musicians of the past. My complaint really is that so many less-than-great performances which would have been ignored by the recording industry in the past are now instead being "immortalized" and sold to the public. That's my beef.

Indeed I'm grateful for those few very fine discs that are still being issued: it keeps me engaged with music as I can no longer perform myself.

The trend of issuing so much less-than-good stuff really started, IMHO, with the invention of the CD in the eighties and has continued ever since.

DavidRoss
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by DavidRoss » Sun Mar 21, 2010 11:38 am

maestrob wrote:Like many older collectors here, I remember the days when the major companies barely released a dozen new titles in a three month period, all of very high quality. How times have changed! So much quantity, so little quality. I barely notice 4-6 new releases/mo. out of a total of 150 or so that are worth paying attention to.

I am really surprised that so many CDs of such mediocre quality get issued: is anyone actually making a living off all this junk, or are they all vanity projects :?: :?: :?:
How do you find the time--much less the money--to listen to 150 new releases each month? At ~70 minutes per CD, listening alone would require 40 hours/week. That's a full time job!
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

"It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character." ~Dale Turner

"Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either." ~Albert Einstein
"Truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it; but, in the end, there it is." ~Winston Churchill

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John F
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by John F » Sun Mar 21, 2010 1:35 pm

If you're in the publishing business, whether records, books, magazines, or whatever, you have to keep the "product" coming in a steady stream to keep your credibility and market position with the distributors, retailers, etc. who sell your product for you. Without new releases, you might as well not be in business.

You have to go back a very long way to "the days when the major companies barely released a dozen new titles in a three month period, all of very high quality." Indeed, I can't think of any "major" company whose new releases were so skimpy for any extended period when conditions were normal. (The AFM's recording ban in 1942-4, which nearly shut down new releases, was obviously not normal.) Nor were all their releases of "very high quality," not by any means. The past was by no means so rose-colored!

In recent years most of the leading classical music record companies have cut back drastically on new recordings, as well as on the amount of actual classical music contained in such new releases as they come out with. American companies have sold off their classical divisions to foreign conglomerates that cast a hard eye on the bottom line. Budget labels like Naxos and small specialty labels like cpo keep cranking out the CDs, but they're not in the same game as the majors, and indeed not the same game as each other. A skim through any issue of "Fanfare" makes this plain.

As for the good old days, actually there was plenty of "less-than-good stuff" in the decades Before CD - records that were merely competent or worse, by musicians chosen because they were willing to work fast and cheap. In addition to Jascha Horenstein and Hermann Scherchen, the same labels offered the likes of Rolf Reinhardt, Heinrich Hollreiser, Hans Swarowski, Hans Grischkat... Columbia recorded huge amounts of music with Robert Craft, nobody's idea of a great conductor, because Stravinsky financed them out of his own royalties. The great thing about the flood of releases during the LP era wasn't that we were getting Schütz or Schoenberg for the ages, but that we were getting them at all.

Nor were all the 78s classics either. During the '80s and '90s, when it seemed that every 78 ever made was headed for CDs, the "historical" reissues were more discriminating than it may have appeared. Especially in the acoustic era, a huge amount of repertoire was recorded by the record companies' staff conductors, people like Landon Ronald and Piero Coppola and Lorenzo Molajoli, while the great names of the time recorded sparingly or not at all. (Mahler!) Tons of "less-than-good stuff" on 78s has been silently and mercifully passed over, but few of us know anything about all this dross unless we pore over discographies and old catalogs, as I sometimes do.

But enough. If we aren't getting as many memorable recordings today as we, well, remember from the past, we can't escape the possibility - I'd say the likelihood - that we no longer have as many musicians who can make them memorable.
John Francis

Air
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by Air » Sun Mar 21, 2010 3:05 pm

Just like in "the days when the major companies barely released a dozen new titles in a three month period", we have both good and bad options to choose from today. Perhaps we have more options... and this only means that we have more options. I honestly do not care if there are more "less-than-good stuff" being issued because most of this stuff I basically ignore (or don't even hear about). In fact, I see it as a benefit to have this "less-than-good stuff", whatever that means :roll: , available to us... so that we can pick these up if we so choose.

It's not that today's artists are just worst in general, some of them are - but the truth is we are lucky to have stuff like the thriving HIP market, better sound technology, wider choice of repertoire, etc. that we may not have had a few decades ago.

Not to say you can't pick up historical recordings (new or old) anymore. Naxos Historical is one good example of a record label that continues to crank out remastered treasures by the dozen. The Richter in Hungary box set is another one...

CharmNewton
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by CharmNewton » Sun Mar 21, 2010 9:03 pm

For those interested in a walk down Memory Lane, here are your choices for the Elgar Violin Concerto in July, 1968:

Jascha Heifetz/LSO/Sir Malcolm Sargent RCA LM-2919 (itself a re-issue)
Yehudi Menuhin/LPO/Sir Adrian Boult Angel (S)36330

The Cello Concerto fared a bit better:

Jacqueline Du Pré/LSO/Sir John Barbirolli Angel (S)36338
Pierre Fournier/BPO/Alfred Wallenstein DG 139128
Anthony Pini/LPO/Eduard Van Beinum Everest 6141/3141 (re-channeled for stereo)

Today the situation differs considerably. The only one of these performances I haven't heard is Menuhin's, but given what I know of his technical estate from other recordings, I would guess he struggles a bit.

The term mediocre is used to convey average in the perjorative sense. But the average performnce level is much higher today, and unheard of orchestras now competently play the Mahler 9th. Back in the early 1970s, my novice ears wondered how a recording as incompetent as Scherchen's Mahler 7th with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra could have ever been released.

So I think we're a bit spoiled today and have perhaps become a bit comfortably numb. Find a copy of the Scherchen recording to get back in touch with the reality of modern music making.

John

Ken
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by Ken » Mon Mar 22, 2010 1:57 am

Though I've obviously not a long collecting history considering my age, what I do notice today is consistent recording quality in unexpected places. 'Minor' labels like Orfeo, BIS, Hyperion, ECM, PentaTone and Hännsler continue to amaze me with the caliber of performances that they release to disc and the quality of sound engineering. They also tend to highlight less established artists or ensembles who often approach standard music from a refreshing angle.

So on the whole I would say that the quantity of poor performances that may have come forward in recent decades has been accompanied by an increasing number of great performances that can be found in unconventional places.
Du sollst schlechte Compositionen weder spielen, noch, wenn du nicht dazu gezwungen bist, sie anhören.

Jack Kelso
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by Jack Kelso » Mon Mar 22, 2010 8:15 am

I find most of the NAXOS releases excellent---if not superb. Perhaps less for the conventional symphonic repertoire than for rarities like chamber music of Rheinberger or the symphonies of Franz Schmidt.

And at just 6 Euros a disc, one certainly cannot go wrong!

Tschüß,
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

Ken
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by Ken » Mon Mar 22, 2010 9:26 am

Jack, you have mentioned Zweitausendeins before, which is a store that I also quite enjoy to browse (even if the organization of CDs is a bit mish-mash). Where else do you enjoy looking for music in this country?
Du sollst schlechte Compositionen weder spielen, noch, wenn du nicht dazu gezwungen bist, sie anhören.

maestrob
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by maestrob » Mon Mar 22, 2010 10:24 am

DavidRoss wrote:
maestrob wrote:Like many older collectors here, I remember the days when the major companies barely released a dozen new titles in a three month period, all of very high quality. How times have changed! So much quantity, so little quality. I barely notice 4-6 new releases/mo. out of a total of 150 or so that are worth paying attention to.

I am really surprised that so many CDs of such mediocre quality get issued: is anyone actually making a living off all this junk, or are they all vanity projects :?: :?: :?:
How do you find the time--much less the money--to listen to 150 new releases each month? At ~70 minutes per CD, listening alone would require 40 hours/week. That's a full time job!
HI, David.

There's no way I could afford the money or time to listen to or buy 150 new issues/mo. Wow! Supermusician I'm not.

No, I read reviews like everyone else here, and have noticed that out of 150+ releases/mo., barely 5 or 6 get five stars. It just amazes me that there is so much product, yet so little of top quality: hence my topic.

30-40 years ago, surely there were poor releases that are no longer available, yet they usually served a purpose by highlighting rare repertoire not recorded by major artists. Nowadays, so MUCH is available: I just don't get the point of all these mediocre releases of repertoire that's already available in better performances.

moldyoldie
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by moldyoldie » Mon Mar 22, 2010 1:36 pm

maestrob wrote:Nowadays, so MUCH is available: I just don't get the point of all these mediocre releases of repertoire that's already available in better performances.
As with cable channels, fantasy novels, and practically anything else; it's yet another instance of Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everything is crap. By extension, the more there is of something, the more "crap" there is.

Also by extension, the more product that's available the more fragmented the market becomes, often beyond the point where economies of scale can be applied and exploited, since one person's "crap" (or 90%) is another's crème (or 10%).
"Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time."
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THEHORN
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by THEHORN » Mon Mar 22, 2010 5:10 pm

But there's a bright side to the existence of those many "mediocre vanity" recordings by certain musicians who may not be particularly great but have
audience appeal.
The relatively high sales of these recordings sometimes enable record labels to
record interesting offbeat works which might otherwise never be recorded.
I'm told that some of the high-selling "vanity recordings" on the Decca label
provided it with the funds for the acclaimed "Degenerate Music " series.
As they say, every cloud has a solver lining.

Jack Kelso
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by Jack Kelso » Tue Mar 23, 2010 10:17 am

Ken wrote:Jack, you have mentioned Zweitausendeins before, which is a store that I also quite enjoy to browse (even if the organization of CDs is a bit mish-mash). Where else do you enjoy looking for music in this country?
Well, Ken---I like SATURN and MEDIA-MARKT. Outside of those there are basically just a few department stores like KAUFHOF and KARSTADT. Online JPC is available (and has a great selection!), but I enjoy flipping through the physical CDs themselves. I'm just old-fashioned in that way I guess...!

Tschüß,
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

7flat5
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by 7flat5 » Tue Mar 23, 2010 10:37 am

maestrob wrote: No, I read reviews like everyone else here, and have noticed that out of 150+ releases/mo., barely 5 or 6 get five stars. It just amazes me that there is so much product, yet so little of top quality: hence my topic.
Stars! If it's about the stars, that's a whole different discussion. If the relative mediocrity of recordings over time is defined by the stars... it's more about why they give the stars. Personally, I refuse to take seriously any publication that gives stars. Or, at least, I refuse to consider the stars themselves.

DavidRoss
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by DavidRoss » Tue Mar 23, 2010 11:36 am

7flat5 wrote:
maestrob wrote: No, I read reviews like everyone else here, and have noticed that out of 150+ releases/mo., barely 5 or 6 get five stars. It just amazes me that there is so much product, yet so little of top quality: hence my topic.
Stars! If it's about the stars, that's a whole different discussion. If the relative mediocrity of recordings over time is defined by the stars... it's more about why they give the stars. Personally, I refuse to take seriously any publication that gives stars. Or, at least, I refuse to consider the stars themselves.
It may be important to remember that reviewers are essentially promoters, shills for an industry whose profits largely depend on consumers constantly buying more and seeking assurance that they're shelling out for the "latest, greatest, newest, most improved" commodity. The struggling classical recording industry is just trying to survive by applying the model that works so well with pop music. The inherent conflicts of interest facing professional reviewers suggests most reviews should be taken with several grains of salt, although in some cases we may be lucky enough to find a reviewer principled enough and whose tastes coincide closely enough with our own to serve as a reliable guide.

This brings me to one thing I love about sites like this and GMG, which offer a fairly experienced community of critical listeners familiar with a wide range of music and recordings, few of whom suffer such conflicts of interest. Some of us have axes to grind, but they are quickly identified and compensated for! Over time, as we get to know other members and their tastes, we may find several who are very helpful to us in sorting the wheat from the chaff.

On the other hand...participating in a community in which there is such a strong focus on the acquistion of recordings--new, old, or remastered--certainly encourages many of us to adopt the collector's attitude that may or may not facilitate our music appreciation, but certainly does tend to shrink our wallets while expanding our storage space requirements! :wink: The fact is that I have hundred of recordings that I hardly ever listen to and which I would not miss if they were gone: Karajan's 1960s Beethoven symphony cycle, for instance, or Ashkenazy's Sibelius. Yet I keep them anyway, partly out of some vague hope that one day I will discover whatever it is that others find so praiseworthy in such recordings, partly out of reluctance to part with items for pennies on the dollars originally spent.
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

"It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character." ~Dale Turner

"Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either." ~Albert Einstein
"Truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it; but, in the end, there it is." ~Winston Churchill

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Chalkperson
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Re: Quantity vs. Quality

Post by Chalkperson » Tue Mar 23, 2010 1:20 pm

7flat5 wrote:
maestrob wrote: No, I read reviews like everyone else here, and have noticed that out of 150+ releases/mo., barely 5 or 6 get five stars. It just amazes me that there is so much product, yet so little of top quality: hence my topic.
Stars! If it's about the stars, that's a whole different discussion. If the relative mediocrity of recordings over time is defined by the stars... it's more about why they give the stars. Personally, I refuse to take seriously any publication that gives stars. Or, at least, I refuse to consider the stars themselves.
Reviews are just a guide, almost always I can find two contradictory reviews, like you, I believe that it's not the stars that count, it's the words...Fanfare and Gramophone only use words, I trust the former and care little about the latter... :wink:
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