It is said that recording a piano is one of the most difficult things to do as a recording engineer. This has to do with the fact that this big instrument has a complex radiation pattern and this leads to many choices and decisions you have to make in the recording process. These decisions lead to a certain sound and it is always the case to find the right sound that matches the natural acoustics of the hall, the repertoire that is recorded and most important the sound that the pianist creates.
In this case I recorded Naum Grubert, born in Riga when Latvia was still part of the Soviet Union. His principal studies were with the famous professor Gutman in Moscow. He was a prize-winner in the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1978, after having won the 2nd prize at the International Piano Competition in Montreal the year before. He toured extensively the Soviet Union and other European countries before he emigrated from Russia and became a Dutch resident. His many impressive recitals, as well as concerts with among many others the London Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Köln Philharmonic, the Tonkünstler Orchestra Vienna, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Helsinki Philharmonic, the Kirov Orchestra St. Petersburg, the Dutch Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, the Rotterdam Orchestra, the Residential Orchestra, have earned him a reputation of superb musicianship.
From the start of our co-operation it became clear that we all shared the feeling of not wanting to make any compromise when it comes to sound, time and commitment. Before every recording, Naum Grubert comes to the hall to work on the piano, together with master piano technician Michel Brandjes. The next morning I come in with the microphones. My setup is based on three pairs of omni microphones, starting with one small pair close to the piano, one main pair a bit further away and a very wide pair in the hall. The middle pair is the main source for the sound. The close pair and the wide pair in the hall are used to provide both ‘grip’ on the sound as a nice diffuse and non- correlated hall sound. The mix of these three sounds leads to an ‘integrated sound’. In other words, the piano and the hall work together as one instrument. The question is, is this realistic? My simple answer is: No. First of all, we have to deal with the fact that we cannot see the pianist while listening to the recording. If the recording was made in such way that the sound is identical to the sound that an audience member hears, it would not work since we miss the visual information. I search for a sound that provides the same impression and emotion that a listener experiences in the hall.
For the Chopin album I used basically the same mix for all pieces. However, for some pieces I gave a certain accent by adding a bit more ‘space’ or ‘grip’ to the sound. Especially for the music of Chopin, which contains both deep emotions as light sun rays in the waltzing pieces, the way of approaching the recording and mixing can be an addition to the artistic process.