Serenade: the 1996 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival CD Page 7

Atkinson: Well, in a sense, making a one-off recording of classical music, or of jazz, or of any acoustic live music, is easy. [laughs] All you do is pick the right hall, the right microphones, the right place to put those microphones, and the right way to use them, and record them on the best recorder you have access to, and you will have a magical-sounding recording. However, when you're spending somebody else's money, making recordings that you're going to sell to people, you're forced to be anal-retentive and document everything you do in minute detail. You really need to be completely covered.

Recording is dominated by Murphy's Law: "If anything can go wrong, it will." And when it does go wrong, you don't want to have to start from scratch. You have to know in minute detail what you did, so you can do it again. And when you have, as we did, two different performances and a sound check on tape for each work, from which we're going to construct the best performance in the editing, everything must be the same for every one of those three occasions. Sound engineering may be an art, but if you're going to do something more than once, it also has to be a science.

One of the things I was pleased with was the way the recorded soundstage expands between the three works on the CD. On the opener, the Mozart, the flute is positioned just to the left of center with the string trio covering the center and just to the right of center. Which is how it should be, it's an intimate work. For the Brahms, violinist Sheryl Staples is a little farther to the left than the flute had been in the Mozart, while the horn is about the same distance to the right of center. Max's Steinway extends from center stage to the right speaker. For the third work, the Dvorák, the ensemble extends from far left---the oboes---to far right, the double bass. The dynamics also expand in a similar manner. The Mozart cruises at about -15dBFS, the Brahms is a little louder (as well as being more richly scored), with peaks that reach -3dBFS, while the climaxes in the Dvorák reach just three LSBs beneath 0dBFS, the highest possible level on a CD. These levels accurately reflect the live sound pressure levels, which I monitored during the rehearsals.

Phillips: For one work on this CD, we went back to the 1995 Festival.

Atkinson: It was a fabulous performance of the Brahms Trio for Horn, Violin, and Piano, with Julie Landsman, Sheryl Staples, and Max Levinson. We didn't use it for the Festival CD because it just didn't fit the rest of the program. But when it became apparent that we wouldn't be able to use one of the works we had recorded for the 1996 CD, that gave us the opportunity to use the Brahms. And I must say I'm very happy we had that opportunity. Despite being only in their mid-20s when they gave this performance, Sheryl and Max both reached deep inside the piece...

Phillips: And Julie's a monster player, one who's criminally under-recorded in chamber repertory. I'm proud that we're releasing this recording.

Atkinson: Basically, that's what recording is all about to me. It's a privilege to be able to record superb musicians like Carol Wincenc, like Sheryl Staples, like Julie Landsman---like the entire Festival Ensemble---and have them sounding on a CD just as they sounded in the concert hall.

Phillips: That's a wrap!