Fate, I Defy You: The Robert Silverman Liszt CD
—Peter G. Davis, writing in the New York Times about Robert Silverman's New York debut in 1978, when he performed the Liszt B-Minor Piano Sonata in Alice Tully Hall.
If you listen in order to the sounds of the three previous piano recordings I have produced—Anna Maria Stanczyk performing Chopin on the first Stereophile Test CD, Robert Silverman performing Brahms on Intermezzo, and performing Schumann, Schubert, Chopin, and Bach on Concert—you can hear that I have moved away from strict Blumlein-miking soundstage accuracy in order to capture more of the "bloom," more of the luminosity, of the original sound (footnote 1). For while the art of stereo recording does involve the capturing of a two-dimensional picture of an original event—the soundstage—it must also be true to the tonal qualities of the original. Achieving an optimum balance between the two philosophical extremes of recording is where much of the art lies. It also begs the question, of course, of why it's impossible to have both: a recording with a virtual-reality sense of imaging that also captures all the sound without any coloration.
That it is not possible, however, is due to the fact that the recordist must use microphones that themselves are imperfect in many different ways. As I wrote in the booklet notes to Stereophile's Festival CD, "Once the venue has been chosen...there is no quality-changing decision in all of recording that is more fundamental than that of what microphones to use. Not only does every microphone have its own sonic signature, but the combination of its pickup pattern and how the engineer chooses to exploit that pattern drastically affects the stereo image and the perceived quality of the hall reverberation."
For the Stanczyk recording, I had used the Calrec Soundfield microphone, set to emulate a pair of coincident figure-8 microphones angled at 90 degrees. This gave both a superbly well-defined image of Anna Maria's Steinway and a good sense of the recorded acoustic, but the piano sound was a little dry compared with real life. For Intermezzo, engineer Kavi Alexander had used a pair of tubed figure-8 mikes. Vertically coincident—one above the other—and angled with their diaphragms at 90 degrees to each other, the mikes were separated by a few inches to give more of a sense of bloom without compromising the stability of the stage. For that reason and for others, the sound of Robert Silverman's Steinway on Intermezzo was richer and fuller and closer to the live sound.
For Concert, I ended up using a pair of Brüel & Kjaer Model 4006 microphones. This ½"-diameter solid-state microphone is the truest of the mikes I've mentioned to the tonal qualities of whatever it's pointed at. It also has a superbly extended low-frequency response, bringing out the raw acoustic power of a big piano. However, it features an omnidirectional pickup pattern (ie, it captures sound equally from all directions), and when you use a pair of omnidirectional microphones to record in stereo, you're forced to use them separated quite far apart if the soundstage is not to resemble a monophonic blob hovering between the loudspeakers. However, the danger then is that the stereo image might well acquire too much of an unstable "hole in the middle." (The pulling of the central images to the sides with a pair of spaced omnis can be heard on the "Mapping the Soundstage" tracks included on both Concert and Stereophile's Test CD 3 (footnote 2).
Footnote 1: The first Stereophile Test CD features test tracks and music examples recorded by members of the magazine's staff. It costs $6.95 plus S&H. Intermezzo features Brahms's Piano Sonata 3 in F Minor and the three Op.117 Intermezzi. It is available on LP or CD for $16.95 plus S&H. Concert, recorded live in concert, is a two-CD set featuring Schumann's Sonata in F Minor (the so-called "Concerto Without Orchestra"), as well as works by J.S. Bach, Chopin, and Schubert. It costs $15.95 plus S&H. Visit the "Recordings" page on this website to order .
Footnote 2: Stereophile's Test CD 3 costs $9.95 plus S&H. See the "Recordings" page on this website.