Duet: And Two to Carry Your Soul Away Page 2
The chapel's long reverberant signature, while gorgeous for the solo violin sonata, would have proven too much of a good thing for a Steinway grand piano in the Enescu and Janácek sonatas. We waffled between our favored New Mexico venues: St. Francis Auditorium in Santa Fe's Museum of Fine Arts, and the First United Methodist Church in Albuquerque. In the end, logistics—in the form of hall availability and the fact that all of the concert-quality Steinways in Albuquerque were in use during the time period Ida and pianist Diane Walsh could make it to Santa Fe—made the choice for us. St. Francis Auditorium it was, with the 9' New York Steinway D being provided by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.
Yet, as we discovered on setting up in the hall on March 30, 1998, it was a different-sounding St. Francis than we had recorded our three Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival CDs in. The acoustic shell that the Festival used had been disassembled, and the stage was nude, which changed the acoustic tremendously. The violin and piano had a distinctly less forward sound without the shell, and there was far more bloom within the hall.
Recording without an audience also made a huge difference in the sound. You wouldn't believe how much more dead several hundred nice, soft concertgoers can make a hall. Sometimes this is a good thing, but not always. Though it may sound misanthropic, I like St. Francis far better without people.
Of course, the absence of an audience eliminates audience noise, which recording engineers always appreciate. However, this did not guarantee silence during the recording process. St. Francis Auditorium is smack-dab in the middle of downtown Santa Fe, and there is traffic in the area until quite late in the evening. This is exacerbated by the fact that Santa Fe Trails, the city's bus company, now uses Sheridan Street, which runs adjacent to St. Francis, as the terminus for all of the city's bus routes. Much time and effort went into choosing the quietest times to run tape—some of it was even successful. As little bus noise remains on the recording as possible, but if you think you hear the deep rumble of an engine in places, take it as proof of the superior resolving power of your stereo system—and of our microphones.
St. Francis is not a lush-sounding hall in the manner of Loretto Chapel; it sounds bright in comparison. But that very brightness brings clarity to densely scored passages, such as most of the Enescu—clarity that reinforces the virtuosity of Levin and Walsh. The Enescu and Janácek sonatas would have overwhelmed the Loretto's sustained lushness, whereas their power and complexity ring forth gloriously in the St. Francis. Besides, Levin and Walsh have tonal color enough to please anyone. In St. Francis, the two of them managed to fill all that empty space with music that is full of warmth, humor, and powerful humanity.
Or, at least, that's how I hear it. Now that we're done, you can decide for yourself.