Recordings are rated on a simple scale of 1 (unacceptable, no redeeming qualities) to 10 (superior, qualities of unusual merit) for both performance and recording. However, it’s our belief that the performance rating far outweighs the significance of the sound rating. The best recordings are those in which the listener’s attention is primarily drawn to the music itself. Great sound adds to your enjoyment of the music, bad sound interferes with it. In addition, most recordings from the early stereo era on can be remastered to sound acceptable, if not outstanding, on compact disc, and some of the best-sounding recordings ever made date from the late 1950s and early 1960s. So we see no point in withholding a 10/10 recommendation from a great recording of the past simply because it was made before modern digital recording techniques existed, provided that its sound has been carefully restored. Nor do we believe that a superb modern performance should be penalized unduly because it is not self-evidently an “audiophile” product. If the performance under review is truly exceptional and is supported by sound that neither artificially enhances, detracts from, nor draws attention away from the music, the critic may award a 10/10 rating.
The problem with any rating system, however cleverly devised, is that it tends to place undue emphasis on differences that ultimately may be trivial at best, and misleading or inconsistent at worst. The standard of classical music performance today is relatively high, and the difference between say, a 9 and a 10 may be self-evident to the critic, but either inaudible or irrelevant to another reviewer or to individual listeners. For this reason, whenever possible and appropriate, we include with each review a “reference recording” of the music in question. Wherever possible, critics will indicate their personal recording of choice in the repertoire under consideration. This recording may be old or new, still available or out of print. Our goal is to give you, the reader, the opportunity to make the same comparisons that our critics make when listening to the music. You should feel no compulsion to agree with our critics; in fact, disagreeing is equally important, because the ultimate purpose of ClassicsToday.com is to enable you to find the music and recordings that suit your personal taste. You do this by taking the advice of the critics you find sympathetic, and by ignoring the advice of the ones whose perspective leaves you cold. Either way, you learn how to pick and choose your way through the immense musical legacy that is our classical music culture.