I would fully agree with you that you have a point of view, but I'm not persuaded. Let me share more of my thoughts on this if I may.
Editing has been around for a very long time. Back in the days of piano rolls, the recording studios quickly figured out that if there were a wrong note on the roll, they could easily paper it over and make the hole in the exact place that would sound the correct key on the player piano. In the days of the 78 and 33 rpm recordings, the engineers had cutting machines used to excise the wrong notes in a part of a tape recording, and then spice the replacement piece of tape. In the digital era, the recording engineers' bags of tricks became far larger and much more facile with electronic wizardry like sampling. I'm reminded of the story of the well-known pianist who had a very difficult and frazzling recording session. At the end of the day the engineer said he'd work on the recording, and asked the artist to return in a few days. When he did return and listened to the recording, he was extolling its virtues, at which point the engineer said, "Don't you wish YOU could play like that?" I think this pursuit of perfection has gone too far--which is not a good thing in my opinion. Years ago when we heard a recording, we could often tell immediately who the pianist was. Nowadays, they all seem to sound alike. Young pianists who listen to CDs today actually believe that the perfection that they hear is real, when quite often the true maestro was the recording engineer. As a result they aim for cautious, note perfect renditions. At competitions they all play the same sanitized, plain vanilla, and boring renditions. They take few risks, there is no hint of individuality in their performances, and then we all wring our hands worrying that recital audiences are shrinking.
The fundamental, irreducible, unshakable and immutable fact of the human condition is that that we are not perfect. If we were perfect, then we would be gods. Horowitz used to say that if in just one moment in an artist's lifetime, he were to get even close to perfection, then that would be a very lucky person indeed! Horowitz felt that the very idea of the perfect performance would be an imperfection. And yet we're inundated with "perfect recordings" on CDs. The reality is that we do not live in a perfect world, and in my view edited recordings present an illusion. That is, they pose as perfection, denying the existential imperfection. Authenticity, I suppose, might be in the eye of the beholder. What if one takes six recordings, uses one cut from No. 1 for the introduction; passages from No 2. for part of the exposition; a cadenza from No. 3; a snippet from from No. 4 to fix some wrong notes; No. 5 for some fluffs in the recapitulation; and half the entire coda taken from recording No. 6. Is that an authentic performance? Is there any assurance at all that the pianist can actually play the piece through reasonably well? Is the performance represented on that recording really authentic? Or what about the midi guru who painstakingly builds a complex piece note by note using sampling and sequencing, spends months fine tuning it, and passes his 100% editing job off as his "performance". Is that authentic? I wonder if Rachmaninoff would enjoy hearing his Etudes-Tableaux played robotically on midi? The question then is where does one draw the line? Is there universal agreement about the positioning of that line? Or is there no line at all? If it's left to "in good taste" then there is no line, and editing is open to abuses. There is a huge relativity there, which further puts me off from having any desire to edit my recordings.
Back in 1901 and before, there were no recordings, only live performances. But there were performance practices, well known virtuosos in those eras as today, and plenty of music critics. Artists made plenty of mistakes in their playing. Did those errors or memory lapses (e.g., Cortot, D'Albert, etc.) dishonor the composers? I recall hearing Artur Rubinstein at Symphony Hall in Boston in the 1960s. The hall was packed with extra stage seating for the conservatory students. Rubinstein was not known for accuracy, and he missed a leap in the left hand, and dropped a few notes under the piano. Did that destroy the composer's intent? Not according to the huge ovation Rubinstein drew from an appreciative audience! They were more taken with the scope of his interpretation, his magisterial approach, his playing in the grand manner, all of which was totally inspiring. When Richter's recording of "Pictures at an Exhibition" was released, klinkers and all, it caused a worldwide sensation. Did Richter's errors dishonor the intents of Mousorgsky? I doubt it given the general response! Nor do I think a few errors on the part of an amateur damages the composer's intent. We all want to serve the composer to the very best of our abilities, but we're not perfect. We're mere mortals, not gods.
When I have to do a recording, there are two microphones on stands pointing toward the piano and a recorder, which I must operate, to the left of my bench. Yet I never think of it as a recording session. To me it's a performance. I'm just an amateur pianist far removed from the realm of a Rubinstein, or Lorti, or Lugansky. Nonetheless, I look at a performance as a noble effort where the only concern is ars gratia artis. My concentration is focused on my interpretation--forming the imagery in my mind, feeling the emotion of it, forming musical intent, executing that intent to the best of my ability, playing with freedom and taking risks, and communicating my interpretation to the audience. And if there are two or three fluffs? Those can happen to anyone in performance. It's the existential reality.
As far as the composer's vision is concerned, a number of things come to mind. I can cover this ground though with two extremes. First, I think of Brahms. The reports of the time when he was getting elderly was that his playing of his own works was sloppy. Unlike when he was a younger man, he no longer put any time into practicing. So he was not achieving his own vision then? His response: "The audience already knows the notes." At the other end of the spectrum, oftentimes a pianist comes to know a work far better than the composer ever knew it. How can that be possible? Because whereas the composer finished the manuscript, sent it to his publisher, turned his attention to six other works in progress, and never found time to revisit that piece again, by contrast a pianist might spend years or a lifetime with that piece always gleaning new and deeper insights into the music. By then the pianist's vision has become as or more valid than the composer's, and is just as authentic in my opinion.
Page turns: I notice that Marc-Andre Hamelin often performs using scores, sometimes with a page turner, sometimes without one. In the latter case, as adept as he is, I wouldn't be surprised if the people in the first couple of rows could hear some paper rattle from that exercise now and then. But given his amazing playing, who would ever care? In my own case I can no longer memorize, have no page turner, so have to turn pages. Again, a Hamelin I'm not, so I do the best I can. I'm thinking that maybe I should abandon big pieces and concentrate on two-page miniatures. It would certainly solve the problem! On the other hand, we seem to forget that websites like PS mostly get home recordings, with a few live recital recordings at times. So in my mind a bit less formality is to be expected from home recordings.
The last thing I want to mention is that I notice here at PS there are two parallel tracks of critique. 1) The quality of the performance and 2) the quality of the editing. Examples: The cut is too noticeable, it needs some noise filtering, not enough reverb, etc. etc. It's as if editing has sometimes seemingly been elevated to an art form almost on par with performance itself. In my own humble opinion, I believe it receives more attention than it deserves relative to performance.
I guess I probably sound very old fashion and unyielding in my views on this matter. But I feel very strongly about it, and yes, I do believe that eschewing editing is the more authentic way of presenting a performance. That's just one man's opinion, of course. I've never had feedback that I've failed to serve a composer's intents well, so feel confident in continuing on course in producing good recordings of lesser known works without editing. For those who wish to edit, I say more power to them if they believe it's helpful to them. It's just not my thing.
"Interpreting music means exploring the promise of the potential of possibilities." David April
Last edited by Rachfan on Sat Oct 23, 2010 7:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.