“…the recording industry tried to fix in the collective imagination what individual musical works should be, like the totemic masterpieces of the Western canon (or rather, like those pieces of music that were turned into canonised totems, in part by the recording industry): a series of desirable, aspirational cultural and commercial objects, a collection of black-lacquer-magicked things that could be literally possessed by anyone who bought a record of Furtwängler conducting the Ring cycle, or Toscanini conducting Verdi. There was also a broader fixitive effect on the whole shooting match of classical music, which – arguably – was reduced by the heroic stage of the recording era to a library of unchanging, perfected icons instead of a living, breathing, ever-changing cultural practice.”
What the article doesn’t discuss is live performances. While I find Glenn Gould’s studio approach interesting, and love his recordings, live recordings are certainly more powerful. I think one can “fetishize” some live recordings as being especially powerful and unique. This is the case with rock and jazz as well: everyone familiar with the music knows that Bill Evans’ 1961 Village Vanguard recordings, or the Grateful Dead’s 8/27/72, 2/13-14/70, or 5/8/77 are masterpieces.
The broad access, which leads to the ability to compare versions is great, but it leads to another problem: that of having lots of different versions of works, and getting lost among them. I confess that this is something that happens to me with some works. But for others, I’m glad I have, say, Richter, Badura-Skoda, Schiff, Uchida, Lewis and Brendel in my collection when I want to listen to some Schubert piano sonatas.