Editor's Choice: Stereophile's Sampler & Test CD Track 5

[5] Mozart: Piano Quartet No.1 in G Minor, K.478, Rondo: Allegro (from Bravo!, STPH014-2)

Performers: Pinchas Zukerman, violin; Cynthia Phelps, viola; Eric Kim, cello; Marc Neikrug, piano
Recording Venue: St. Francis Auditorium, Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Recording Dates: August 16-17, 1998
Producer: Philip Traugott
Assistant Engineer: Wes Phillips
Piano Technician: Michael Blackwell
Page Turner: Kent Williamson
Microphones: two Shure SM-81 cardioids (piano, close ORTF pair); two DPA 4006 ½" omnis (distant spaced pair); two DPA 4011 ½" cardioids (violin, viola spots); Mitey Mike II omni (cello spot)
Mike Preamps: Millennia Media HV-3B (violin, viola, piano spots), Bryston BMP-2 (cello spot), Nagra-D (main pair)
A/D Converters: dCS 904D (24-bit, violin, viola spots), dCS 902D (24-bit, piano pair), Manley (20-bit, cello spot), Nagra-D (20-bit, main pair)
Recorders: Nagra-D (piano, main pair), Tascam DA-38 with PrismSound MR-2024T bit-splitter (violin, viola, cello spots)
Mixer: Sonic Solutions Digital Audio Workstation (7 channels)
Mastering Equipment: Lexicon PCM-90 digital reverberator, Z-Systems rdp-1 digital equalizer
24-16-bit Noiseshaping: Meridian 518

The fourth year of my recording the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival proved problematic: As part of its contracts with the owners of the paintings it displays in its galleries, the Museum of Fine Arts had installed a noisy climate-control system that couldn't be turned off during concerts in the adjacent St. Francis Auditorium, which is part of the Museum. The hall's staff hadn't thought this worthy of mention prior to the sessions because they assumed I could filter out the noise. In addition, the AC poured a curtain of cold air across the front of the stage during the concerts.

The solution was complex. The AC noise was sufficiently wideband that electronic filtering changed only its character, not its audibility. It also emanated from several sources. So, while I did record the concerts where this Mozart work was performed, the performance you hear on this CD results from post-concert sessions, where we could both turn off the stage air and apply duct tape to the seams around the hall's doors to reduce the noise from the system's pumps and compressors, which lie outside. And while to capture the overall sound I did use a distant pair of omnis, spaced 27" apart and angled away from each other, I also placed spot mikes in front of and above the violin and viola, close to one of the cello's f-holes, and an ORTF pair of cardioids about 15" above the piano's soundboard.

As all the word clocks of all the A/D converters were linked, the seven channels of digital data could be played back in sample synchronization from my digital audio workstation's hard drives. But, as you can imagine, the spot mikes produced a very dry, rather bright balance. For the mixdown, therefore, I used a Lexicon digital reverberator to synthesize a stereo ambience that closely resembled the sound of the hall as captured by the distant pair of omnis. (That one sentence seems too short to describe a process that lasted the better part of a day!) If a longer reverb time is used than existed in real life, then the artificial hall's character will be wrong for the tempo chosen by the musicians; if too short, the disparity will be obvious.

What you should hear: The balance is a mixture of the spot mikes (each panned to its precise position in the soundstage and time-aligned with the main omni pair), a high-pass-filtered version of the distant omni pair, and the Lexicon-sourced reverberation. In the mix, I attempted to reflect the fact that, although nominally a chamber work, this Quartet is better considered a piano concerto in miniature. While I equalized the string channels to what would have been heard at the audience position, I therefore left Marc Neikrug's Steinway with slightly more high and low frequencies than was strictly accurate. However, the image of the piano extends from the right-hand speaker to just left of center stage, as it did in real life. The cello is in front of it, the other two strings to its left.

Though it does have some nostalgic moments, this generally upbeat Rondo provides a nice contrast with the melancholy of the movement from the clarinet quintet.