There are only two ways to make a recording

There are only two ways to make a recording


norman lebrecht

June 22, 2018

From our diarist, Anthea Kreston:


Our recording location this week was in a charming, repurposed dance hall on the outskirts of Berlin. The herringbone wood floor, high ceiling and tall windows made for warm and clear acoustics, and the old stage is now an enclosed recording booth. This Shostakovich 7th is one of the first pieces I learned with this Quartet and, in fact was one of my audition pieces. As all Shostakovich, it requires both extreme power-playing and extreme stillness – endless, almost inaudible notes which (on a recording especially) must have perfect sustain, impossibly controlled.

The three long days were spent standing, as we always do, and with occasional visits to the recording booth to check that our chosen vision is understandable from the other side. I was covered in sweat, and found myself out of breath frequently. I brought three large canning jars of beverages to sustain me – coffee, tea and zinc-lemon drink. All were empty by mid-day, the liquids expended through my pores.

I have recorded enough times, and with enough different people to realize that there are two main camps, philosophies. One is – I must control this, and preset a perfect picture. The second is – perfection is the job of the people in the booth – my job is to play like I have never played before in my life.

I was lucky, this week, to be surrounded by people who believe the second, and not the first. Recording in this way (any way, actually), is exhausting. It is a combination of running a marathon, stopping frequently for high-intensity-interval-training, performing spinal surgery, and arguing a case before the Supreme Court. My feet ached, my arms and back felt like I had just mowed the lawn at Versailles, and my brain felt like I had just finished a chess match with Nikolić–Arsović. And that was at the end of day 1.

There is never a moment to step back and relax. Whether playing a melody, choral section, duet, or supporting a main voice, there must be a consistency of tempo, dynamic, and a clear emotional message. This is forever. The base details have to be consistent, to allow for the post-recording editing. Tempos must be exact, flow must be achieved immediately, and dynamics have to be consistent. All of these things, however, are secondary to an intensely personal sound, colors and textures which are a time-capsule – something which can reach out of speakers and can grab the listener by the heart, in the same way that Shostakovich reaches out of the paper and brings us along on an unforgettable, personal journey.



  • Terence says:

    Another good reason why I don’t record myself – even though it’s recommended to improve playing. Even I don’t want to listen!

    • mr oakmountain says:

      Even though I am but a humble amateur, I try to record every single of my performances (with a hidden-away field recorder). It has helped me improve almost everything about my performances, including intonation, phrasing, timing, balance with other performers … It also gives me a different perspective of my sound, since the sound reflected back to me and filtered through my bones is very different than what reaches the audience. Sometimes it even gives me the simple pleasure of having documented a job well done.

      But producing a professional recording for CD is a completely different matter, and beautifully described in this posting! Thank you, Anthea.

  • Caravaggio says:

    Just as there are only two kinds of music: good and bad.

  • Chilynne says:

    Ah, something to look forward to!

  • J. says:

    Shostakovich 7 and…? (why not the whole cycle?!)

    I can’t wait for the recording! : )

  • Marg says:

    Looking forward to hearing this when it is finally birthed. Having been involved with a small ensemble recording a very difficult work (but not as a player I hasten to add) I can appreciate how exhausting it is both physically and mentally/emotionally.

  • simonelvladtepes says:

    WTF? Sound engineers are the enemies of mankind. I was fantasizing about writing a crime thriller about a serial killer who targets sound engineers.