I've been building up my collection of classical music recently, not least because Lola gave me a copy of Aaron Copland's excellent What to Listen for in Music for my birthday. It's interesting, poking around the different recordings by different musicians, and I was reminded of how hard it was when I first started buying classical music to understand the importance of getting the right recording of a particular piece.
It's silly -- because obviously I understood intellectually that one musician can play better than another. For people who've always loved the classics, whose parents brought them up on Beethoven, it seems ridiculous that someone might think that a collection of cheap recordings (like the Naxos ones I got at Uni) might be worth having. Why on earth would you want to listen to a second-rate recording? I think that the problem is that for someone brought up on pre-recorded pop music, it can seem like the recording is the composition. Or, to put it another way -- the original version, the version released on CD or iTunes or whatever, is the original version. The score, as it were.
For people like me, who grew up with pre-recorded music, let's spin that the other way; in classical music, obviously there is normally no original recording by the composer. Less obviously, this means that everything is a cover version, and just as with any piece of music, there are good covers (think, Jimi Hendrix playing All Along the Watchtower) and appalling covers (think, the Fratellis playing All Along the Watchtower). There is no original, no Bob Dylan version (which in the case of All Along the Watchtower might be a good thing, but that's a whinge for another day :-)
I'm not saying anything even vaguely ground-breaking or new here, but if someone had made the Watchtower comparison to me back in the mid-90s I probably could have saved a few quid on bad recordings of Prokofiev...