The Silverman Concert Page 2
Robert Silverman and I heated up the fax lines tossing around a number of ideas. Bob came up with three separate programs: 1) either the first or second Rachmaninoff sonatas; 2) an all-Chopin recital; or 3) a Viennese evening, centered on Beethoven's "Moonlight" sonata. Gradually, however, Bob's desire to record what he termed "another Romantic blockbuster" became paramount, and he decided to showcase Robert Schumann's little-recorded Opus 14 sonata—nicknamed the "Concerto Without Orchestra"—in the concert's first half. (He would include the sonata's original second scherzo, which had been omitted from the published edition.) The second half would feature Schubert's popular set of six Moments Musicaux. Short pieces by Bach and Chopin would round out the two halves of the evening (see "The Music" sidebar).
We had traveled to California for Stereophile's Poem and Intermezzo albums to use the facilities and talents of Water Lily Acoustics' Kavi Alexander. As we were making this recording nearer to home, and Kavi's recording setup couldn't travel, I decided that we'd do this one ourselves.
We had three recorders available: Stereophile had recently purchased from David Manley an Ampex ATR-100 two-track, open-reel tape recorder with both ¼" and ½" head blocks, which Robert Harley had refurbished and tweaked with the help of, among others, John Curl and Steve McCormack; I also had my two-track, ¼" open-reel Revox PR99; and for digital, Stereophile owned a Panasonic SV-3700 DAT recorder. David and Eveanna Manley offered to loan us their one-point stereo microphone, which Bob Harley had successfully used to record the drum track on our Test CD 2.
The Manleys also loaned us a 20-bit, UltraAnalog-based Manley A/D converter and a Starbird boom microphone stand, both of which we subsequently purchased. In addition, we still had the Tim de Paravicini-designed EAR mikes we had bought after recording our 1989 Poem album (footnote 1), as well a pair of B&K 4006 omnis—one my own, the other the Stereophile mike I use for the magazine's speaker reviews.
For microphone preamplifiers we had the tubed EAR 834, which had worked so well on our previous recordings; and a chance conversation Bob Harley had had with Museatex's Ed Meitner resulted in Ed driving down from Calgary with two prototype solid-state mike preamps he had designed. For cable, I had my own faithful pair of 75' Beyerdynamics I'd used for many years; in addition, Bill Low of AudioQuest offered to loan us the long sets of Diamond cables producer Joe Harley uses for AudioQuest Music's recordings.
Since everything was untested, we needed to do a trial recording. The church had a Yamaha grand piano, and Bob Harley advertised for a piano student who would be interested in playing it for us in return for a set of demo tapes. We therefore had the luxury of being able to experiment with every type of microphone array, fine-tuning the positions of both the mikes and the piano to get the best representation of the hall's sound onto tape.
Imaging Accuracy vs. Tonal Accuracy
Listening to the resultant tapes proved interesting: not one of the mike arrays was 100% accurate to the sound of the rather bland-toned Yamaha in the church acoustic. The EARs, used as a vertically coincident, crossed pair of figure-eights, struck an excellent balance between soundstaging and midrange accuracy, but were also rich-toned in absolute terms, making the Yamaha sound too mellow (fig.1, bottom). They were also noisy at the distance required to capture the optimal balance between the direct sound of the instrument and the surrounding ambience. As the only substantive technical criticism (footnote 2) made of our Intermezzo album had concerned its level of background noise, I felt we had to go for quieter mikes this time, given that background noise was emanating from the EAR mikes.
Fig.1 On-axis microphone response curves: B&K 4006 with black grid (top); B&K 4006 with chrome grid (middle); EAR The Mike set to crossed-figure-eight pattern (bottom) (10dB/vertical div.).
The spaced B&Ks were used with their black grids, which give them a flat diffuse-field response but a rising on-axis response (fig.1, top). They were therefore used pointed at the roof, which gave a tonal quality superbly true to the Yamaha's character. Because the only way to get any kind of stereo image from omnis is to use them spaced apart, however, the soundstaging was diffuse, with no clearly defined piano image. At the distance we set the omnis up from the piano, there was a pleasing mix of the direct piano sound and the church's reverberation.
Footnote 1: See September 1989, Vol.12 No.9, pp.66-100. Featuring works for flute and piano by Griffes, Reinecke, and Prokofiev performed by Gary Woodward and Brooks Smith, Poem is available on both LP and CD; see the secure "Recordings" page on this website for details on how to order.—JA
Footnote 2: My favorite musical criticism came from Earl Wild one day over lunch. He regally informed me that "Silverman didn't get the orgasm [in the slow movement of the Brahms] orgasmic enough." I had thought that the Silverman climax, taken from the first complete take of the movement, was about as emotionally intense as you could wish for. But then, I'm British.—JA