I recently read some discussions in this forum and also some reviews of classical releases. For instance one poster wrote that the Goldberg recordings of Gould and Schiff didn't satisfy him. So it's a case of two different prominent recordings not satisfying the poster who wrote this telling observation.
This matter is not about tastes but it might be pertinent point of discussion among classical music fans.
The issue of conformity covers two aspects: the choices of recordings and performance decisions.
First I would like to touch on performance decisions, the issue of following the composer's instructions.
People would argue that keeping score is not enough in any good musical performance. There would need to be room for expression. If a performance contains contortions, inflections and deviations from the score it might be seen as a sign of expression. The performer is thus responding to the music and highlighting aspects that others may not have brought out in others'performances.
I wonder if it might help to take reference from Confucius' description of the common man who marvels at uncommon things.
Gould, Stokowski, Mengelberg and Kreisler are examples of musicians who weren't afraid to deviate from the score and present their personal response to the composer's music.
I wonder if the composer is his own worst enemy if he places too many guidelines on his piece? For instance I haven't forgotten how Ravel disapproved of Toscanini's rendition of Bolero because Toscanini took the music too fast against Ravel's decisions.
The other issue relates to choices of recordings. It may seem independent but it might be surprisingly related to performance decisions.
We find that critics and listeners tend to echo each other's choices when they vote for recordings by giving them thumbs up or thumbs down.
I wonder if this might imply that they could become lapdogs of mediocre talent by promoting the recommended recordings we are pointed to. If this is so why don't people complain to Gramophone or other classical magazines?
Going back to my original questions I wonder if prominent performers might become victims of product placement. By this I mean to ask if their recordings become emotionally unsatisfying and might demonstrate advertisement over musical substance. For instance, I sense that the promotion of Karajan might leave other Austro-German conductors like Kempe, Tennstedt, Schmidt-Isserstedt and Knappertsbusch in the shade.
I quietly sense that the mainstream-lamestream pun might apply to the issue of classical recordings too. Though this term might be more prominent in the media and politics it can be used in other fields of social life too.
In this discussion I would like to move away from politics and refer to the George Orwell novel 1984 and the Madeleine L'Engle novel A Wrinkle in Time. Both novels make the point that conformity is a social disease. In A Wrinkle in Time the disembodied brain IT squashes all individuality on the planet of Camazotz, and so the inhabitants lead an unfeeling, robotic life. The Central Intelligence sets norms for others to follow. The same thing happens in 1984 when Ingsoc controls the minds of its subjects and eventually impacts on Winston Smith.
This is NOT about opinions. I only want to examine the issue with you.
Why should this be? Some people toulc think it's because of the prominence of Gramophone and its associated publications (Penguin Guide), rationalism and the computational climate. It seems that the Gramophone and Penguin Guide editors worry about being watched when they write their reviews, and so they could come under fire for recommending controversial recordings.
I wonder also if it is down to the conformist culture in British because of the Industrial Revolution, the past legacy of empire building and the Victorian school system.
Before I close this post I wonder if the only way to break out of this classical music conformity is to endorse recordings on rare labels, especially of the mainstream repertoire.
To elaborate on my thoughts it might be good to refer to the comments on the Guardian website that respond to the article about Nigel Kennedy's views about modern interpretations of Bach.Some of the comments align with my thoughts on these perceptions.