New Cantus CD from John Atkinson
Update 12-11-07: Cantus was listed at No.9 in the list of Top Next-Generation Classical CDs of 2007 compiled by Cincinnati-based NPR radio station WGUC. You can audition the hymn "Salvation is Created" on the station's website.
Cantus's concert programming represents a great mix of styles and influences, and on Cantus, producer Erick Lichte decided to showcase this variety on one recording. It includes a new commission from Lee Hoiby—"Last Letter Home," set to the words of a letter written to his wife by Private First Class Jesse Givens before his death in Iraq—paired with a popular song by Billy Joel. Early 20th-century Russian sacred music is presented next to early 21st-century American sacred music. Mediaeval chant is accompanied by free improvisation on the vibes. And the album ends with two showstoppers—"Who's Loving You?" a Smokey Robinson tune featuring tenor Al Jordan, and a spiritual, "I Can't Tarry," featuring bass Tim Takach, that has a splash of gospel. "The programming keeps you listening from beginning to end, just like it does in a live concert," says Erick Lichte.
Highlighted on the CD is a world-premier, semi-theatrical setting of "Casey at the Bat." Peter Hamelin's setting of the American classic is complete with cheering crowds, the sounds of ball hitting hickory and leather, bells, and even twittering birds. Stereophile editor John Atkinson, who engineered, edited, mixed, and mastered the CD, explains that "Casey" was the most complicated recording he has yet made. "I recorded the complete work performed both by the complete choir and by a solo barber-shop trio, then edited between the two versions where Erick felt appropriate. I then captured all the sound effects, crowd noises, and solo dialog outdoors, using spaced Earthworks QTC40 omni mikes, with a Metric Halo ULN2 mike preamp-A/D converter connected via FireWire to a Macintosh G4 TiBook laptop. A bonus was that each time bass Tom McNichols struck the ball with the bat, the birds in the surrounding trees cried out in alarm, which we kept in the final mix. The final element was a tolling bell, which Erick found on-line. In all, there were 24 different tracks contributing to the final mix, but I think that it still sounds natural."
For the third recording he has made of Cantus in the supportive acoustic of the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls, SD, he used the same three pairs of microphones for the main pickup: two DPA 4011 cardioids as an ORTF pair; a wide-spaced pair of DPA 4006 omnis; and two DPA 4003 high-voltage omnis mounted each side of a Jecklin disc (these were fitted with spherical acoustic equalizers, to increase their directionality at high frequencies). Each pair of microphones captured a different aspect of the sound; varying their proportions in the mixdown optimizes the soundstage and the tonal quality.
For the solo leads in "I Can't Tarry" and "Who's Loving You?" and the trio in "Casey at the Bat," JA used one or two Neumann M147 tubed cardioid mikes, positioned a couple of feet from the singers, to bring out the individual character of the voices. For Dave Hagadorn's vibes on "Introit," he used a close ORTF pair of Shure SM81 cardioids.
Microphone preamplifiers were all low-noise, solid-state models from Millennia Media, these feeding analog/digital converters from dCS (a model 904) and Metric Halo (ULN2 and MIO2882, both connected via FireWire to the host computer), all word-clock–synchronized at an 88.2kHz sample rate with 24-bit resolution. The 6–8 channels of digital data were stored on a Mac mini's internal hard drive, using the public beta version of Metric Halo's Recording Console software.
The multitrack mixdown was performed in the digital domain, using Adobe Audition; the editing, sample-rate conversion from 88.2kHz to the CD's 44.1kHz, and the word-length reduction from 24 to the CD's 16 bits (using the POWR-2 algorithm) were all performed with BIAS Peak 5.2. All the equalization and adjustment of gain in the CD mastering were performed with a Metric Halo MIO2882+DSP. CD mastering was performed with Sonic Studio's PMCD v.2.0 program.
All of JA's recordings of Cantus are still available from this website, but sadly, we have sold out of two popular recordings, Robert Silverman's monumental performance of all 32 of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas and Music For a Glass Bead Game, from John Marks Records. We don't currently have plans to re-press either album, but we are about to re-release Robert Silverman's highly acclaimed 1980s performances of the two Rachmaninoff Piano Sonatas as a bargain-priced Stereophile CD. Watch this space for details.