Having just listened to a recording of Tchaikovsky's first PC by Horowitz and Toscanini from 1943. It was so refreshing in terms of how different it was. Unfortunately the recording is very old which detracts from enjoyment... but it got me thinking, why are there so few modern performers and conductors who just do things their own way.

Having googled this, a few names which came up are Pogorelich, Norrington, and Currentzis. Having listened to some of their recordings, there honestly doesn't seem to be such a huge difference to the standard stuff to my non-professional ear. This is a pity because its just listening to the same stuff again; an entirely new interpretation would allow you to enjoy the music almost as though it was entirely new. Apparently in the good old days it was accepted for each performer to add their own improvisations here and there.

So are their any modern recordings of famous classical pieces which are genuinely different to the standard versions (edit: but still in a classical style)? Or as a shortcut, any performers/conductors who are known for their wildly different interpretations. Things which would make even the novice sit up and pay attention! Like playing the slow bits fast and the fast bit slow (within reason and as long as the result is beautiful of course). I imagine this type of thing would be dismissed as wild, inaccurate and iconoclastic by the critics and standard opinion, so if there's anything you think of in those terms I want to hear.

  • The pianist Lang Lang is known for his very interesting interpretations of pieces, if that does help :) He is widely critiqued for his interpretation of eg. Chopin, Liszt
    – Ditto
    Dec 25, 2017 at 15:07

4 Answers 4


If you really want radically different interpretations of classical music, you might look into "alt-classical," which brings a pop, jazz, rock, or hip-hop sensibility to classical works and/or instruments. However, those songs often change notes and rhythms, so they're really new derivative works (or sometimes wholly new works) not just divergent performances.

If you want something audibly different that still keeps the original piece intact, your best bet, ironically, might be to look for an "early music" or other "historically informed" ensemble. The reason is that the modern, standard way of playing a piece may actually be quite divergent from its origins, just due to large general trends in classical performance or even how instruments are tuned or where musicians are seated. For instance, the original version of the ubiquitous Pachelbel's Canon was much faster and more simply orchestrated than most modern versions.

Outside of this, you're unlikely to hear strikingly divergent takes on familiar songs due to the fact that classical music is inherently conservative. Differences that are hailed or attacked as daring and bold within the classical community may be barely noticeable to someone outside it. With that said, some less traditional interpreters of the classical repertoire include Yo-Yo Ma, Bobby McFerrin, Anderson & Roe, Martha Argerich and Ruth Waterman.


Nigel Kennedy is beloved / cherished / famous / notorious (depending on your point of view) for pushing the boundaries.

He released a CD of Vivaldi's Four Seasons a few years ago where he completely reinterprets it (and rewrites it in places, and adds some new stuff) along with a contemporary musical group bridging the gap between Vivaldi and pop.

Worth a listen.


Glen Gould's performance of Beethoven's Appassionata, he takes at a tempo too slow for any reasonable person to consider it Allegro assai. He also does something similar with Brahm's First Concerto with Bernstein.

  • Same for anything else Gould recorded.
    – PiedPiper
    Jun 1, 2021 at 18:13

Glenn Gould's performance of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto comes to mind. Many people consider Gould's entire work to be out-of-the-mainstream.

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