On the other side of the coin, any of these possibilities, plus a host of others, can be disappointing in either customary or totally unexpected ways; there is something at times very pleasant about sitting down with a particular recording and knowing exactly what one will get, and it is only through repeated and various listenings of a particular piece that one can really get to its essence, and transcendence, something that cannot be said of the single live event, no matter how great. Of course, one can have a transcendent experience upon hearing a piece for the very first time, but this is a relatively flimsy pleasure, more of an impact, when set aside the real understanding that comes of repeated listenings of various renditions, then to hear the very apogee of that piece, as you see it. The same is true of any piece of complex music; it would be a tall order to entirely familiarize oneself with any given piece of music without the existence of recordings even if one undertook to attend every performance one possibly could, and even if the piece was one of the most commonly performed; only though the degree of familiarity that I speak of here allows one to discern the truly transcendental. In addition, recordings are a boon to those without the income/time/health to travel to the cities or countries in which the legendary concert hall or orchestra in question can be found, and for such persons the fact that excellent recordings made at these venues do exist is a great boon. Only recordings allow us to compare, in detail - my memory, at least, does not allow otherwise - the interpretations of various great conductors/soloists/vocalists, some of whom may even have passed away; two or three of my favorite/most transcendent have been dead for quite some time, yet their greatness is still apparent via their recordings. I believe that true transcendence, the greatest that may be wrung from a piece, comes from the accumulation of the various interpretations of great instrumentalists and conductors, then for us to some extent to inhabit the mind of the composer, and finally to appreciate its finest rendition(s). Palimpsest over palimpsest, rendition over rendition, an ever-expanding democratic plurality of beauty whose transcendence expands with time, repetition and the passing through of mortal talents. There are also many cases wherein the live performances of a given piece that I've attended do not even approach the transcendence of a particular recording I might own, and this is particularly true of certain more obscure pieces that are not often performed, since economic necessity tends to restrict the great orchestras mostly to performing the "classic" classics, seldom tangling with music that is none the worse for its relative obscurity. How else appreciate the transcendence of a particular live performance if we are not thoroughly familiar with the piece through listening to various recordings? Further, there can be something transcendent about listening to one of one's favorite pieces whilst not bolt upright in an uncomfortable chair being strangled by a bow tie and restricted by a dinner jacket; transcendence can be found even - or especially - with one's head cradled in the lap of one's partner, laying on the sofa in dressing gowns with a fine glass of wine close at hand and one's favorite recording, or even a competent one, of a given piece playing on one's system.
In short, I believe that the transcendence of the live musical event is not restricted to the music alone; it can be, but does not have to be. There can be circumstances under which we experience the reproduction of musical events that add up to transcendence - or transcendent understanding, which comes only with many listenings, be they live, recorded or both - or reproductions that can occasionally be transcendent in and of themselves.
I was thinking about this when posting on the "deathbed audio wisdom" thread, where I said that to accept that there is a distinction between live performances and recordings, make peace with the notion, and derive the greatest pleasure from both being my such "wisdom". The thing is that it goes further than difference in sonics, to the experience as a whole and the events and emotions surrounding it. Was one's spouse/girlfriend/date looking spectacular? Did one have dinner before or after the performance, and was it excellent? Did the performance accord with expectations, exceed or defy them? Did the piece, as performed/conducted, add new dimensions to one's understanding of it? Did a particular soloist/section/conductor or entire orchestra give a remarkable performance? If the concert hall was unfamiliar, what were the acoustics like? Did sharing such an experience with said spouse/girlfriend/date intensify that togetherness on the night? What of the shared euphoria of having many lovers of a certain piece gathered together? Some of the most transcendent musical evenings of my life have been made up of such experiences, experiences going well beyond merely the piece of music as performed. Furthermore, the anticipation of these possibilities is a pleasure in itself. Live music is indeed a unique pleasure and if we really expect our home systems ever to duplicate such experiences we are fools, but this is not to suggest that the live event is exclusively transcendent.