Editor's Choice: Stereophile's Sampler & Test CD Track 7

[7] Schulhoff: Sonata for Solo Violin, Allegro con fuoco (from Duet, STPH012-2)

Performer: Ida Levin, violin
Recording Venue: Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Recording Dates: November 18-19, 1997
Producers: Ida Levin & John Atkinson
Executive Producer: Gretchen Grogan
Assistant Engineer: Wes Phillips
Microphones: two DPA 4006 ½" omnis with (diffuse-field) nose-cone grids (spaced pair at 27") with central DPA 4011 ½" cardioid
Mike Preamps: Millennia Media HV-3B (omnis), Forssell M-2a (cardioid)
A/D converters: Manley (20-bit, cardioid) and dCS 902D (24-bit, omnis) at 44.1kHz
Recorder: Nagra-D
Mixer: Sonic Solutions Digital Audio Workstation (3 channels)
24-16-bit Noiseshaping: Meridian 518

I recorded virtuosa Ida Levin performing this 1926 work in Santa Fe's historic Loretto Chapel. Not only do its stone walls provide a richly reverberant acoustic, the suspended wooden floor acts as a giant drum-skin-like membrane to tilt the tonal balance of that reverberation to the warm side.

With just one instrument to capture, I decided to try a mike technique very different from my usual mix of spaced omnis and ORTF cardioids. This was a variation on the classic "Decca Tree," pioneered by Kenneth Wilkinson of Decca Records in the 1950s. Whereas "Wilkie" had used three Neumann M50 omnis, I used a forward-facing central cardioid to provide a strong central image of the violin, while two omnis at its sides, angled at 45 degrees and spaced by 27", captured the space in which the violinist was playing. (Not used in the stereo mix heard on this disc was a backward-facing cardioid coincident in space with the front-facing mike. This provided a rear-channel signal for a future surround release.)

What you should hear: Ida Levin stands in the center of the stage, the movements of her body clearly discernible. Listen to how her occasional pizzicatos illuminate the Loretto Chapel's acoustic. Its "sustained lushness," as Wes Phillips described it in his liner notes, would turn ensemble music into mush—note how the drier acoustic on the Brahms track is more appropriate for Sheryl Staples' instrument, which needs to remain distinct from the horn and piano. But with a solo violin, the reverberation allows to become real harmonies and chords in this moto perpetuo that otherwise would remain implied.