A disservice to a Grammy winner
Thanks to the website of Norman Lebrecht, the Seymour Hersh of classical music (and about as reliable), we have learned that Gustavo Dudamel's Grammy-winning recording with the Los Angeles Philharmonic of the Brahms Symphony No. 4 will not be issued on CD. Wait a second -- how could a Grammy-winner not be on a CD? When it's only available from iTunes, that 's how. The Dude's Brahms 4th is one of several performances by the LA Phil issued by the Deutsche Grammophon label through an exclusive deal with the iTunes digital store.
Normally, forward-thinking, hanging-with-the-cool-kids, proud non-Luddite that I am (or at least pretend to be in this blog), I would be okay with this. After all, the world of recordings is inexorably heading away from the physical and toward the digital. Music that used to be purchased out of bins in real stores ("brick and mortar", to use the common retronym) will increasingly be stored on your hard-drive, your smart phone, or remotely on the digital "cloud". It won't be long before even the CD has gone the way of all previous recording technologies, though it will probably never be festishized the way vinyl still is (and don't get me started on vinyl fetishists).
Then again, I'm the rare bird who actually admits to having preferred digital sound to analog from the start. I know I'm opposed on this by the majority of audiophiles, who usually begin their counter-argument by bragging about how much they spent on their sound gear. Nice try, guys (and it is mostly a guy thing), and have fun with your toys. You haven't changed my mind on this. But not all digital sound is created equal, and not all digital services do equal justice to the music. And here's where my problem with Dudamel's Brahms enters into the conversation.
For while iTunes was an innovator in digital music sales, and is still the major player in the field, they're behind the times in one key area: They only sell music in inferior sounding Mp3s, rather than the superior "lossless" formats available from most other on-line retailers, including an increasing number of CD labels with digital stores. Rather than get techno-geeky about this (not that I could if I wanted), Mp3 vs. lossless is the aural equivalent of a newspaper pull-out vs. a fine art print. Or a photo taken by an old cellphone vs. one snapped on fancy camera. While Mp3s will do for casual listening with ear-buds -- I listen to them frequently when I'm out and about -- they're inadequate for any kind of serious enjoyment And despite the protestations of many people to the contrary, yes you can tell the difference. My friends at the local high-end stereo store have told me of the many customers who buy good audio components, only to complain that their music still sounds like crap. Little wonder, since the customers are playing their tunes off of iPods rather than CDs. Garbage in, garbage out, as the computer nerds say.
So that's why you're not going to hear the Grammy-winning Brahms 4th Symphony on WFCR. Really, I' d love to, but not if it sounds lousy. We play lots of stuff from downloads, but only from the high-quality type. However beneficial the LA Phil/Deutsche Grammophon/iTunes deal is to the parties involved, it's a disservice to the music and to the customer. We should ask for better.