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 Post subject: Brahms 117 #2
PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 2:17 pm 
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Here's a recording of the Brahms intermezzo op. 117 #2. I made it a few years back. I have a stash of about a dozen recordings from that period, and I'd like to make some new ones.

I haven't been doing much recording lately; it was very stressful being the artist, the engineer, and the producer all at once. Now, we also have two parakeets in the house, and they don't know when to be quiet. But I do hope that the piano society will spur me to do some more.

The recording was made in my living room, which is rather too small for a recording studio. There are some odd resonances, and insufficient reverberation.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 2:46 pm 
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Hello Mike,

I remember your name from some of the splendid O'Reilly books I own and/or have read. Good to hear you are also a pianist ! I will listen to your recording tonight - it interests me as I have recently recorded these Intermezzi as well. Perhaps you can train the parakeets to song along with you ? :lol:

You may want to correct your email address though, according to O-Reilly Postmaster it should be
mikel@oreilly.com.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 4:45 pm 
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techneut wrote:
I remember your name from some of the splendid O'Reilly books


Heh, cool, me too! And I played these Intermezzi years ago. Looking forward to listening to this in full.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 9:13 pm 
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Very clear, clean, consistent. Stylistically, there's something to be said for erring on the side of understatement with Brahms, but maybe there's a little drama missing here? Could be the acoustics and/or recording equipment eating your dynamic range, as several people here keep running into. Probably not the equipment in this case, as it sounds like a very high quality recording! What hardware are you using?


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 10:33 pm 
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To be perfectly honest: when I was listening to this earlier, I also thought it was a bit colorless. I liked it better than the other recording of this piece I had around (though that was more because of the recording than the performance). It also feels slow to me, though I actually play it faster than the recordings I have.

I usually felt that my recordings came off relatively stiff and bland. I don't think my "live performances" are like that. I'm not sure why there's a difference, though I think it's in part because there's too much to think about when you're recording. Are the page turns silent? Did that peak overdrive the A/D converter? That in itself may cause me to pull back at some of the big moments. It's hard to be expressive when you're worrying about page turns, or a sforzato turning into an ugly buzz. For that matter, I had one excellent recording ruined by the beep of an oil truck backing up the neighbor's driveway. (I'm sure you all have your war stories.)

As far as equipment, here are the details:

Piano: Bosendorfer 170 (I happened to be in the right place at the right time)
Mics: DPA 4006
Preamp/Mixer: Spirit/Soundcraft Notepad
Recorder: Fostex hard disk recorder (I forget the model, and I'm not home right now)
MP3 encoding: I don't remember. It was probably LAME.

The piano and microphones are in a different league from the rest of the system.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2007 7:53 am 
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A very nice, steady and conscientious performance ! Nothing much to pick on, but indeed you could make a bit more of the piece in terms of dynamics and rubato. Especially the dramatic climax around 3:45 and the ensueing desperate, Faustian coda are a little underplayed and do not contrast sufficiently. Not so say that I am doing a better job with it, and you make less mistakes...

You have the same problem as I do, sometimes a soft LH note does not seem to sound even though you most probably do play it. As you used a Bosendorfer, I now know I cannot blame it on my instrument - it must surely be the nut behind the keys. The 3 tolling low bass notes at the end of the A section could have a little more weight, and sound a bit longer than they do. You may want to pay some attention to an even attack with both hands, in one or two places that is not optimally even.

And it would indeed sound better with some added light reverb - it's not very dry but Brahms needs a little more resonance.

But very good, idiomatic Brahms playing. More please !

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2007 12:02 pm 
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Very enjoyable performance (I listened twice)! You certainly have a good grasp of the emotional content of the piece. And the recording quality is just superb. So my comments are only minor and largely inspired by my own struggling with the Intermezzi... :)
I would agree that "a little more drama" would be desirable. But then, these pieces are very introvert and introspective, so it's a fine line and one can easily overdo. Thus, the nuances a very tiny ones (e.g. diminuendo from p to pp), which makes it a hard one. Apart from dynamics between adjacent notes, there is the dynamics between the melody notes (think e.g. in bars 1-8 ), and it's important to think about the whole line - where is the climax? where should I gradually tone down? Also, some notes could have a more "longing" feel, especially in the passages indicated "espressivo" - maybe try giving them a bit more weight (not necessarily loudness) with the arm. Also, I would try to get as much legato (from the fingers, in addition to pedalling) as possible. A good practice would be to play it completely without pedal. Together with a very fine-tuned dynamics it should support the flowing character of the piece. And then, I agree with Chris, from bar 67 on, after a whole time on p and pp, there's the first f indication, and more to follow. This climactic character should be audible, and also make a nice contrast between the legato lines (e.g. bar 73/74; these also need as much finger legato as possible) and the repeated allusion to the second melodical idea (chords). Btw, this second idea, which first appears in bar 22, sounds a tiny bit clumsy to me (really only a bit), and I guess the reason is the same as my problem in op.117/1: the hand plays full chords, but it should sound dolce, piano, and very legato. Again, these are minor comments to what is a really nice playing!! -Tobias.

P.S. I'm a big O'Reilly fan, too! Our institution has a Safari flatrate, so I'm using the books every day (and I love the animal covers!!)

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 08, 2007 9:42 pm 
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First, thanks for all the comments. I really appreciate them. I'm going to have to go back to this 117#2 and work on it some more. I don't remember who commented about the bass notes disappearing, but you're right. That has to be something in the recording--the piano has plenty of bass. In a lot of Brahms piano pieces, the bass notes don't have to be very loud--you often only want a pianissimo, something in the background that almost makes you wonder whether you heard it or not. But for some reasons, the bass notes were swallowed. I think it's a microphone placement issue, or maybe even a phasing issue (which would amount to the same thing, I suppose).

I'm listening to a recording I made at about the same time, of Mozart K475. There are a few things that go wrong, but if there aren't too many of them, I'll post that a little later.

This has definitely got me interested in making recordings, parakeets or not!

Mike

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 09, 2007 6:45 am 
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mikel wrote:
I don't remember who commented about the bass notes disappearing, but you're right. That has to be something in the recording--the piano has plenty of bass. In a lot of Brahms piano pieces, the bass notes don't have to be very loud--you often only want a pianissimo, something in the background that almost makes you wonder whether you heard it or not. But for some reasons, the bass notes were swallowed. I think it's a microphone placement issue, or maybe even a phasing issue (which would amount to the same thing, I suppose).

That must have been me. I have the same problem, but nobody believes me if I blame it on the equipment. It frustrates me no end when I listen back to it, and I know I damned well played these notes. I'm pretty sure the recording is at least partly to blame - but perhaps it can only be overcome by simply playing more forcefully.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 09, 2007 1:37 pm 
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It's an interesting question--should you alter your dynamics to compensate for a recording, for example, making the bass notes a bit louder? I'm pretty sure the answer to this is "no"--I think this would lead to very unpredictable and unsatisfying results. The cure would probably be worse than the disease. But it might be worth an experiment or two.

Some other thoughts. What are you using for speakers? Right now, I'm listening in my office, where I have a pair of Alesis monitors. They're better than your average computer speakers, but not anything really special. When you look at the specs, the low end only goes down to 38 Hz. And the bottom half-octave a piano is below that (A-D). It's been a long time since I listened to this recording on my stereo system (not "audiophile", but still pretty good). I wonder if that would be different? Getting down to the bottom A, at 25 Hz, is difficult for a lot of speaker systems, even for those that are supposed to go down to 20 Hz.

The subwoofer industry may be hurting us here; speaker manufacturers can make more money if they can sell you an extra speaker for the third note on the scale. And at the same time, subwoofers are really designed for making big thumps and explosions, not for real audio, at least as far as I'm concerned. (I'm not impressed by 5.1 audio--might be cool for movies, but in a concert, if sound is coming from in back of me, that's not a good thing.)

This has gotten a bit off-topic, so I'll shut up... The main point is that I think the speakers might be part of the problem.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 10, 2007 12:18 pm 
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This one's up the site too.

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