The difference between a normal boot and a recovery mode boot is (among other things) in the parameters that are passed on to the Linux kernel. A normal boot uses Kernel Based Mode-setting (KMS) whereas in recovery mode KMS is turned off by default to make sure it causes no problems in case recovery mode is needed.
From the Release Notes of Ubuntu 10.04:
”Ubuntu 10.04 LTS enables the new kernel-mode-setting (KMS) technology by default on most common video chipsets. While this is a major step forward for the graphics architecture in Ubuntu, in some rare cases KMS will prevent your video output from working correctly, or from working at all. If you need to disable KMS, you can do so by booting with the nomodeset option.” https://wiki.ubuntu.com/LucidLynx/ReleaseNotes#Working_around_bugs_in_the_new_kernel_video_architecture
I believe the nomodeset parameter is behind the low graphics mode you’re seeing in recovery mode and therefore intentional, as visually unappealing as it may be.