We’ve got to get rid of these stars, right?

We’ve got to get rid of these stars, right?


norman lebrecht

November 28, 2020

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

What would you say if I gave up star ratings? They are only the vaguest approximation of a critic’s opinion, and they might well be affected by the weather, or the latest COVID numbers. I’ve seen ratings that barely reflect the text of a review, just as footballers get marks out of ten that bear no relation to their influence on a game. I know some readers look no further than the star rating before making up their minds. But for those who actually read, does the rating make any difference to you? Do tell.

Take the present pair of symphonies, the Prokofiev 5th and Miaskovsky 21st…

Read on here.

And here.

En francais.

In Czech.

In Spanish



  • Pierre says:

    I agree! On some occasions, i’ve read your (seemingly) very positive reviews and then saw your (seemingly) less positive “star-count”. This “star count” effectively takes attention away from the true meaning of the text and forces upon the reviewer a very mathematical approach to an otherwise much subjective aspect.

    It could be cultural, a french person will much more rarely give a Perfect rating compared to some other nationalities (in my experience).

  • V.Lind says:

    I never noticed them. I read the reviews, as I trust words more than symbols. Keep ’em, lose ’em — don’t make no never mind.

  • Tom Varley says:

    It’s not clear from the text of your review exactly why you’re withholding the fifth star? Is there too much restraint in the Miaskovsky, or something else? I’m not infrequently puzzled by the inconsistency of when you praise a recoding in the body of your review but then give it a 60% or 80 rating. Maybe the stars and the % rating should go and you should just give us your written review.

  • fred says:

    stars no, marks YES

  • Art is emotion we don t need any ratings and the reality is that since the bigining of internet the critics are less and less influencials and it s not so bad

  • Thomas Dawkins says:

    By now, I know what reviewers tend to agree with my personal tastes and which don’t. You also see one-star reviews of people like Vladimir Horowitz and Franco Corelli and Jacqueline DuPré which tells you just about all you need to know.

  • Peter Mecoles says:

    Do you give the stars as a comparison so that 4 stars means there’s a better recording out there somewhere? I agree with other comments that it is better not to have the stars at all and if the performance is not quite up to par then say so in the review.

  • Sharon says:

    As in the classroom two teachers can give the student different grades for the exact same piece of work. I always read the review

  • Genius Repairman says:

    Have a star rating with the possibility of a rosette added for an exceptional recording as was done in the Penguin Record Guide.

  • Nick2 says:

    The photo at the head is misleading. It seems to portray the Hollywood Walk of Stars. But to get your name up there you have to pay some organization a very hefty fee.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    For restaurant reviews I think the “five star system” exists so you can avoid slogging through the review itself. It may be that a star system could work for music reviews, but I think it would have to be based on something like a 20 star (or even 200 star) maximum in order to reflect the gradations and reasons of why a particular recording is liked or disliked, and for what reasons. A modest example – I can recall many very nice recordings in the early CD era some of which contained just barely 40 minutes of music, and this is back when CDs were premium priced objects. How do you ignore the timing in your overall reaction even if everything about the music, the recording quality, the performance, and the production values (program notes for example) is exemplary? Or pick some other variable — marvelous performance, disappointing sound? A poor choice of coupling. Maybe each separate point of evaluation needs its own stars. The result being of what assistance to the reader, assuming they read it for assistance?

    Wasn’t it Winthrop Sargent, a genuinely fine critic, who once withheld top praise for a particular recording of a symphony because of the clear superiority of Toscanini’s, only to have to eat crow when it was pointed out that Toscanini not only never recorded, but evidently never even performed, the piece? That is the danger of “comparative” reviews, which is what we were told the readers of Fanfare wanted.

    Perhaps I am garbling the story.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I think more useful would be to train and employ a generation of critics who can actually read music, study scores, and have had some practical music performance experience. Just as important, they should have a strong, in depth basis of comparison when it comes to recordings. With everyone being an online critic these days (I at least meet my own criteria), that isn’t going to happen. Regardless, we need critics to be more objectively articulate in describing what happens in a performance or recording, and give us less of their subjective reactions to what they’ve heard. When you finish reading a review, you should get some of idea of what something sounded like , so that you can determine for yourself if a certain performance or recording is for you.