The Reviewer’s Conundrum: What to Do with a Very Bad Recording?

I review CDs and DVDs for MusicWeb International, the site with the largest number of classical CD reviews freely available on the internet. I’ve been writing reviews for the site for nearly 15 years, and have reviewed some 600 CDs and DVDs.

MusicWeb reviewers receive a list of CDs every month or so, and choose the ones they want. (I also get some CDs directly from record labels.) So I go over the list, and check out what interests me, what new releases fit with my musical tastes and knowledge. In this month’s lot, I got a recording of a work I love and know very well – I’ll leave it nameless – that I tried to listen to this morning, but that was so bad, I had to give up. It’s a solo instrumental recording, and the performer plods through the piece, which, by the way, is played at a tempo which makes it about 50% longer than other versions of the same work.

So I’m faced with a conundrum. In general, I don’t like writing bad reviews; I think it helps no one, and harms the performers and record labels. But there is also a responsibility to write such a review, to alert other music fans about such a poor recording. It’s not like they can’t judge from themselves; the release is available by download, so anyone can listen to excerpts and hear what I heard, and see if they agree with me.

So what do you think? Is it better to write honest reviews of bad recordings, or just toss them aside, and spend time writing reviews of the good ones? Because, since the time of all reviewers is limited, every bad recording that gets reviewed means one less potentially good recording will go unreviewed.

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