Taking a large musical work such as an opera, and arranging it into a piece of chamber music, can be quite a daunting task, as you may imagine. But it had been done before, especially in the late 19th century. Taking Sergei Prokofiev’s masterpiece, The Fiery Angel, and recomposing – no, re-imagining – it into a half-hour story that completely conveys the story with just two instruments, that’s a monumental task. A task which Maya Fridman took upon herself in 2015, as part of her Master’s Degree in cello performance (for which she received the highest honors, cum laude).
Maya Fridman, Artem Belogurov
|Qualities:||DSD 64fs, 128fs, 256fs, DXD|
To be able to create this arrangement, she needed to work out a way to portray all these different roles of the story with just two instruments, cello and piano. The hysterical, erratic Renata, the knight Ruprecht, Madiël, the Fiery Angel himself, and even figures such as the Village Witch and the people at the convent in Trier, all are portrayed wonderfully by Maya’s arrangement for these two instruments. Her famously expressive playing style came in perfectly to suit the various timbres her arrangement required.
In that regard, it doesn’t just take very special artists to perform such a piece, but also very special instruments. Most modern-day pianos, for example, wouldn’t be able to perform as expressively as the 1880 Erard grand piano we recorded with. This particular instrument, previously owned and played by composers such as Diepenbrock and Mahler, just like other Erard pianos, was straight strung (as opposed to having overlapping strings such as in modern grands), enabling for a much clearer sound in the basses. Lovingly named “the Ferrari amongst pianos” by owner and restorer Frits Janmaat, this piano gave Artem Belogurov the ability to play the densely scored arrangement without ever lacking clarity in the basses.
“(…) using Merging converters and software, we made sure that nothing stood in the way between the live air molecules in the recording room, and the digital bits and bytes of our mastering system.”
We recorded The Fiery Angel in 2015, making it one of our earliest recordings of the label. The location was quickly chosen to be the legendary MCO Studio 2 in Hilversum, The Netherlands, because of its close and somewhat dry sound for classical music. Normally, one wouldn’t recommend this hall for classical music – some nice lush reverb always does nicely for chamber music. However, because the music was so dense, especially in the piano, the piece required us to capture as many details as possible. By using just four microphones, all made by Rens Heijnis at Sonodore, we were able to minimize any masking that usually occurs when signals from different microphones are added up (mixed). Also, by recording in DXD (352.8 kHz 32 bits) using Merging converters and software, we made sure that nothing stood in the way between the live air molecules in the recording room, and the digital bits and bytes of our mastering system.
For me personally, this is a very special project. Valery Bryusov’s novel (on which Prokofiev based the opera), the opera itself, and this arrangement of it are all masterpieces to me. And to be asked to record such a masterpiece is not just extremely humbling, but also quite frightening… It is up to the abilities and passion of the recording engineer to make or break something as amazing and magical as this.
We hope you’ll love the piece as much as we did and will always do.