June 2008

The Futile Search for Perfection

June 5, 2008 14:36

When I was two years old, my Mom took me to a live performance of Carmina Burana because the Ormandy recording was my absolute favorite cassette tape (remember those?) to listen to. Bolstered up with pillows so I could see the stage, I stayed awake and alert through almost the entire concert. I had almost forgotten the magic of that piece until, in junior high, my mom turned it on when I had a friend over. Still familiar with it, I thought of it as no more than background music, but Sam thought it was awesome and bought the same recording as soon as he could. About a year and a half down the road, we went to a live performance of Carmina Burana on our first date (unofficially...the official one was Rite of Spring...but that's another story). It came up again during Latin class, when we were assigned a passage to translate- "olim lacus colueram", the song that the roasting swan sings. Needless to say, Carmina Burana has become one of my absolute favorite pieces of music.

But loving a piece so much has dire consequences. Memories have a nasty way of perfecting musical performances; we come away with an ideal sound in our mind that we might be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Such is the case with Carmina Burana for me.

The search for "the perfect recording" began right after Mom pulled out the Ormandy recording for Sam. After listening to it again, I found it didn't sound quite as amazing as I had remembered it, mostly due to the poor sound quality on the cassette, so I went in search for a better. The recording by the Atlanta Symphony came very close at the time, discarded only because of the remarkably poor recording balance. But listening to that recording forever marred my opinion of the Ormandy, after hearing another soprano hold her high note forever...and ever...and ever. A new, higher standard was set.

My fanatical search was temporarily postponed after a heavenly performance of Scheherazade by the French National Orchestra sent me on another chase (stifled only after a recording was bought for me...the search still continues however...) but revived recently upon the presentation of several Barnes & Noble gift cards and an enticing classical music sale. Hurried by the ending of the sale, I spent an entire day searching online for the "perfect recording," listening to clip after clip of inadequate recordings. In none of the CDs did all the factors- orchestra, soloist, recording quality- line up perfectly. No jackpot.

Although I missed the sale- my search for perfection eventually outweighed my search for a good deal- I finally settled on an old out-of-print import from the Toulouse Orchestra and am planning to buy it soon. But, even though it is excellent, there was something lacking in the clips that I missed. I doubt that I will ever find exactly what I am looking for in a recording. There is no such thing as a perfect recording in an imperfect world. And that is a great shame.

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