Available on primephonic this summer: Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy and Symphony No. 1
Erdo Groot, sound engineer at Polyhymnia International provides us with a fascinating glimpse of a recent session with the Russian National Orchestra conducted by Mikhail Pletnev, recording a Scriabin programme for PENTATONE.
Polyhymnia International makes many different audio recordings in various locations around the world, including many for PENTATONE. One project I did recently was of Scriabin’s Symphony No. 1 and The Poem of Ecstasy with the Russian National Orchestra, conducted by Mikhail Pletnev. This was a particularly complicated and interesting recording to do. These pieces display a lot of the imagination of the composer (both early and later in life), and are easily shaped by the interpretation of the conductor and the musicians. The compositions also effectively highlight each individual player's ability – there are wonderful trumpet parts in the Poem. The challenge was to find the right recording technique to capture it all, in a way that sounds as impressive on disc as it did live.
For this we went to Moscow’s DZZ studio. Its wonderful acoustic makes it possible to use a microphone technique providing the most pure and faithful sound registration, exposing all the different layers of sound. These are large ensemble pieces, with lots of brass and percussion. Particularly in the surround sound, which allows for an even more faithful reproduction than in stereo, all of the sounds are beautifully layered - from the choir in the back to the orchestra in the centre, and to the individual solo violin part in front.
Maestro Pletnev has a rapport with this music, which is reflected in how he plays the wonderful piano pieces by Scriabin and there is a sense during the performances that Pletnev is conducting the orchestra as if playing a piano. He and the orchestra navigate tempo changes together, and there are individual accents and phrasing that bring out the deep feeling behind the notes and make the whole ensemble sound as one.
The orchestration of these pieces is wonderful. The Poem, in particular, includes an organ at the end of the piece, and there is a steady build-up to a rousing climax, with the entire orchestra playing at maximum volume. As the studio did not have an organ we decided to record the organ separately (after finishing the orchestral recording) in a church in Germany. It was difficult for the organist to play alone, yet make it appear as if he was playing with the orchestra. It was even more difficult for the recording team to record it in such a way that it sounded like the organ was playing together with the orchestra in the original recording venue. For this challenge I set up the mikes in the church, to match the setup in the studio. When everything was set up the organist listened to the orchestra over headphones and rehearsed until he was ready to play and record the part. As so often in a session recording, the piece was recorded various times until everything had been played enough times that it was possible to edit and mix it all together perfectly. But how that process actually works can be the subject of another article......
Erdo Groot Headphone Image: iStock PENTATONE Album Artwork: Joost de Boo
The entire classical community is watching the formation of two more legendary pairings between conductor and orchestra with great interest and there is no doubt that starting in 2018, nothing will be the same.