Today there is much discussion about the sense of musical recordings. How does the performer's approach change when playing in a studio rather than in a concert? Is it right to play in a different way, or should the recording be a “snap-shot” of a live performance, where the small imperfections should be left as they are? There are differing and often contrasting points of view. Some people, like the pianist Grigory Sokolov, only authorize the issuing of CDs that feature live recordings without any modifications, thus leaving in the (few) slips inevitable in a live concert.
Some commentators even go so far as to compare post production editing procedures to plastic surgery operations: they aim to achieve a presumed, ideal perfection, which however risks undermining the spontaneity and the depth of the expression itself.
In my opinion, the ever increasing possibility to use audio editing software to “improve” the performances and remove any imperfections is not necessarily a problem that jeopardizes the sincerity of the expression. All depends, of course, on the purpose and objectives of whoever decides to make a disk. Often the objective is not strictly associated with the musical message: but if the final aim is just to demonstrate that you are able to play faultlessly, then the undertaking is already compromised from the outset.
On the other hand, if we think of the great artists of classical music (and not only), almost all those who have remained in the history of performance did so thanks to their recordings, more than their live concerts. This is because recordings have a longer life. Live events can only endure in the memory, but it is hard for a memory to be passed on through generations, unless it is, in fact, recorded. The concert is a way to prolong the life of a disk, to extend its message by sharing it live. Moreover, a disk, unlike a concert, represents a message in which the artist fully declares himself, at least in those cases when the CD is authorized by the musician who recorded it. This is why I believe, in agreement with Glenn Gould, that the recording of a musical performance is an undertaking that has its own high artistic worth, even higher than a live concert, but only if it is able to express a precise poetic idea that coincides with that of the performer.
From my own point of view, I can testify that modern tools for the post production of sound, are indeed “tools”: if not abused, they can be employed to serve one's own musical intentions, to afford the performer sufficient ease to try out the best ways to express his own musical ideas. Vice versa, if ideas are lacking, then even a performance without lapses, achieving a “clear round”, will turn out to be quite sterile.
So what counts most is that a performer should have a strong idea, convinced and deep-rooted, of his own vision of a piece. Without this, a performance that is “perfect” in terms of a correct textual reading will in any case have no reason to be, besides egocentrisms and narcissisms. Vice versa, when the poetic idea is strong and well defined, it will be effectively transmitted also in a live concert, and it certainly won't be a mere slip to undermine its intensity.