I'm sorry if this is appearing several times but every time I post it, it doesn't appear. I'll try it here as a reply and see if that works.
After a recent posting, I was asked off line to explain why harpsichords were so difficult to record in the '50s. After I answered this person, he/she said I should post the explanation on line, (I won't reveal who it was but they'll be reading this and they can if they like).
First, let me emphasize that this comment was NOT a criticism of Mercury records, the Puyana recordings are as fine as any harpsichord recordings of their day, (in fact, the tonal range of those recordings is astounding), the criticism was of the state of the art of harpsichord recordings in those days and earlier. As I think most people know, unlike a piano where the string is hit with a felt hammer, and hence it's name, (piano is short for pianoforte, soft-loud), the harpsichord's strings are plucked with a plectrum and is capable of very little dynamic range - depressing the key very slowly or hitting it very hard produces a note of virtually the same amplitude.
Unlike any other instrument, when I first heard a real harpsichord, my first impression was how much it DIDN'T sound like a recorded harpsichord. Until the '70s, the standard level measuring device was the volume-unit, (VU), meter. The behavior of this meter was designed to simulate the response of the human ear. A "VU" is identical in intensity change to a "dB". In the '70s the Peak Program Meter, (PPM) was introduced which measured the peak value of an audio signal - peaks that a VU meter missed. The sound of every note on a harpsichord is preceded with a peak at the point of string plucking which can be as much as 20 dB higher than the body of the note. If you mike a harpsichord and measure the sound simultaneously with a VU meter and a PPM, you can set the volume of the sound so that it's reaching reference level on the PPM but the VU meter is barely moving. These peaks are very important in recreating the sound of a harpsichord but if you
raise the level until the VU meter is responding at reference level, you'll be clipping off these high amplitude peaks, hence the usual sound of recorded harpsichords from the '50s and '60s and earlier. If you record a harpsichord using only a PPM as your level setting device, you'll be amazed how "real" the instrument sounds on the recording, (this assuming that you are listening to it at a level that simulates the level of an actual harpsichord and not at the level you would listen to Mahler's 3rd Symphony).
There were some early exceptions, of course; in my experience, the earliest recording that did a good job of capturing the actual sound of a harpsichord was Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 5", I've forgotten who the artists were, (and I'm currently in Florida away from my records), but this was a DGG/Archive recording in the old cream coloured jackets where each disc was initialed by the engineer and/or the producer. Each disc was also accompanied by an index card with all the info about the recording.
On Thursday, April 16, 2015 4:14 PM, Dave Burnham <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
I have thoroughly enjoyed Vol.s 1 and 2 but I must admit that the Puyana discs were the least enjoyable. They exhibited to me a classic example of how harpsichords should NOT be recorded, but was typical of how harpsichords WERE recorded in the '50s. In a concert hall I'm sure not even the largest pedal harpsichords would have the organ pedal type bass that these records have. However, every time I went to remove the CD my hand stopped in mid-air and in the end I listened to all of the Puyana CDs and enjoyed them for what they were, (late '50s harpsichord recordings).
Sent from my iPhone
> On Apr 16, 2015, at 3:12 PM, Thomas Stern <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Ordered from Amazon France (just over $101), shipped
> from UK. No problems noted.
> A few comments-
> I was not familiar with RAFAEL PUYANA, harpsichordist, but see he recorded
> many albums for Mercury/Philips, his last recordings for SanCtuS. He was
> somewhat controversial in regard to performance practice. Wonder if any
> have any strong opinions of his work ???
> It is wonderful to be able to obtain these Living Presence recordings at
> so incredibly low prices, however I do miss having annotations which were
> part of the original albums, and in the very few vocal performances, some
> sense of the texts (either text and translation or summaries). I understand
> that it might be too expensive to include all this text in the booklets, but
> it could be included as a .pdf file on a disc, or made available online at
> Universal's website.
> Best wishes, Thomas.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
> [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Wade Lewis
> Sent: Wednesday, April 8, 2015 12:32 PM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Mercury Living Presence 3
> well My copy of vol 3 arrived, sent from Amazon German location though I
> purchased it from Amazon Italy. All the discs appear to be correct so that
> is one good thing. My thanks go to Tom Fine for his participation in this
> What I am sorry about is that from the documentation, this is the last
> volume that will be issued. This means there is a significant group of
> Mercury recordings that will never be available in high quality CD
> transfers. That includes most of the mono orchestral issues (especially the
> remaining Kubeliks, the Dorati Sleeping Beauty and various Hansons), ALL the
> chamber music monos and a still sizeable number of Stereo items, whether
> missing individual tracks or whole LPs. This makes me sad as, having spent
> a large block of time relistening to the existing CD issues has reinforced
> my impression of the entire catalog as a major statement of the quality of
> recordings made by Mercury in the 1950s-60s.
> I am happy that I have almost all the monos in my LP collection but now it
> seems that i will be running around trying to find good condition Stereo LPs
> once I determine which ones are outstanding as unreleased CD items.
> My OTHER observation is the wonderful quality of the graphics of the
> original LP covers. The boldness of the designs certainly matched the
> statements made by the recordings themselves.
> Finally, looking at the recording dates, it is interesting to see that the
> Capriccio italien on the Stereo 1812/Wellington's Victory CD in vol 1 is the
> same recording that appears in Vol 3 along with the mono 1812. I had always
> wondered if they were the same or different recordings.