For the record: Valentina Lisitsa is releasing a Liszt album on vinyl (Credit: Jon Crwys-Williams)
There is a truth, universally held among classical musicians, that old recordings are better than new. The absurdity of this proposition is obvious. It is the same as arguing that athletes and equipment in the 1948 London Olympics were superior to those of 2012. But where sport can prick pretension with statistics, music is a matter of faith — and faith, as Richard Dawkins refuses to accept, flourishes where reason ends.
In music, the flat-earthers are winning the argument. Listen carefully, the grinding noise you hear behind this column is the sound of the musical clock being turned back. Here's the latest news: the classical LP has resumed production.
Two influential conductors, Paavo Järvi and Gustavo Dudamel, have just made vinyl-only releases. The pianist Valentina Lisitsa— YouTube's most-watched classical artist — has a Liszt album coming out in analogue. A New York string quartet, Brooklyn Rider, issued their debut album on LP because, they say, "Vinyl creates a bridge to a past we deeply admire." Amazon has opened a Vinyl Store. And the fastest-growing area of US music sales, up 39.3 per cent, is, you guessed, the notoriously scratchy, inaccurate, superannuated, inconvenient, short-lasting, long-playing 33 rpm record.
After a quarter of a century of obsolescence, the LP is making a comeback worthy of any religious resurrection. How it has risen from charity shop basement to wealthy living room is a parable for our times, a classic example of popular resistance to the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence and market forces. This is a turnaround equivalent to the vindication of homeopathy, the revival of newsprint and the return of the French monarchy, a romantic defiance of intellect and reality.
The Old Believers give two reasons for revering LPs. The first, misty-eyed, proclaims that there were giants in past times who were closer than we are to the source of creation and thus greater than we can ever hope to be. There is no comeback to this claim. I have tried in vain to demonstrate how Riccardo Chailly's 2011 Decca set of the Beethoven symphonies is better played, in immaculate sound and with a clearer concept of structure than Toscanini's boxy platters on RCA Red Seal, but the OBs just plug their ears and go la-la-la.