The Red Poppy Ballet Suite, Op. 7: Heroic Coolie Dance • Scene and Dance • Chinese Dance • Phoenix • Valse • Russian Sailors’ Dance
“A singular voice.. Macal seemed to be inventing the music himself… a kind of conducting, risky by today’s standards, that recalls the great musical personalities of a half century ago.” The Washington Post
“Glière creates for the listener a sweeping panorama of Russian imagery. He creates aural pictures, or in modern terms, movies for the ear. It is the epic grandeur inspired by Russian lore that puts Glière’s indelible stamp on this music. The recounting of an epic tale requires time, certainly, but in terms of sound, it requires space. And it is perhaps this quality of limitless spatial ambiance that makes the marriage of Glière’s music and Virtual Reality recording a match made in heaven. The composer would approve.” Neil Stannard, album annotator
Before he left the U.S. to become Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic, Zdenek Macal made many splendid albums for Delos with the New Jersey Symphony, all considered musical and engineering triumphs. Among them are memorable Mussorgsky (DE 3217); the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique (DE 3229); and definitive Dvorak (DE 3161, DE 3260, DE 3296, DE 3314), from that composer’s leading exponent in our time. The Dvorak Requiem and New World Symphony (DE 3260) won master engineer John Eargle, Delos’s longtime Director of Recording, a long-overdue Grammy for his engineering.
Here we are showcasing the stunning Gliere Symphony No. 2 and Red Poppy Suite, the album that began our Delos Virtual Reality Recording (VRR) series, John Eargle’s development in sound recording. The VRR series features Zdenek Macal with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Litton with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra; and James DePreist with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra. John Eargle wrote his original statement about VRR for this Gliere album; but his description pertains to all of his subsequent work as well. Revered as a sound recording guru, John was known also for his clear and objective descriptions of recording processes. These descriptions and diagrams can be found in his many definitive books and articles on the subject. But even the ever-objective John waxes eloquent about the fusion of his VRR (or VR2) process and the Delos large-forces recordings:
Delos Virtual Reality Recordings
by John Eargle
Whether we know it or not, we are at a new golden age in sound recording. Since the days of the victrola, the recording industry has been saying that you will have the artist in your home. Now, through technology you first heard in the motion picture theater, the promise is indeed fulfilled. The artist is virtually in your home.
In our culture, the motion picture has become a very important artistic medium. With the advent of Academy Award-winning Dolby Surround, the sound in movie theaters became both more realistic and more exciting. And for the first time, both music and sound effects were presented in a Surround Sound environment.
We have been working in recording for the last few years to produce stereo recordings that can take advantage of the same Surround Sound format that has become standard in the motion picture theater and also in the playback environment of those persons equipped for home theater. With a home theater system, you have set the stage for VRR to take you one step closer to the dimensionality you experience in the concert hall. And you have a music recording that speaks to the younger generation, who respond to the excitement of the Surround Sound they hear in the movie theaters.
VRR is a step forward into the new golden age of Surround Sound. What Virtual Reality implies is that somehow we can create the sensation, either through our eyes or through our ears, that we’re in a space that we’re not really in. This new breed of sound is as unique today as the breakthrough recordings of stereo’s golden age. VRR orchestral recordings encompass a sense of dimension, space and timbre that take us a step closer to the wrap-around sound we hear in the concert hall.
To follow the development of VRR, let’s look back for a moment to the golden age of stereo, when catch phrases such as Mercury’s “Living Presence,” RCA’s “Living stereo,” Decca’s “Full Frequency Range Recording” described stereo’s advances over mono in giving recorded sound a greater sense of realism.
As stereo developed, classical recording took a page from popular recording, and engineers relied more and more on spot miking. We at Delos have been moving in a direction away from the literalness of such an approach, and have sought to preserve both clarity and room sound without unnatural balances that would tend to destroy natural ambience. Stated differently, we have been moving toward greater dimensionality in our recordings.
VRR is ultimately geared to multi-channel playback in discrete Surround Sound. But the two-channel stereo version of the VR Recording will produce excellent results when played over today’s conventional stereo system, as well as the Dolby Matrix Surround Sound technology that is currently used in home theater Surround Sound systems.
How have we achieved this sound? First off, there has to be a good recording venue. The music sources have to be large enough to create generous early and reverberant sound fields in the room. Such a space can be anything from a concert hall to a cathedral.
It is important to use the very best microphones and leading edge recording technology. It is even more important to array the musicians appropriately in the recording venue. In general, we spread the players out a bit more than in concert, but not to a degree that makes ensemble difficult for them. The reason for this is to get a wider stereo perspective to begin with, thus avoiding any congestion on the stereo stage.
Recording is not simply the documentation of a performance; it is itself an art form. It has many things in common with filming a stage play. Just as it would be ineffective to leave a camera positioned at Row M for the duration of a play, it would be ineffective to put microphones at Row M and expect them to make a good recording. Instead, we normally use a number of microphones, some close to the ensemble, some far away. These ingredients are carefully balanced at the beginning of the recording, and are rarely changed to any significant degree during the course of the recording.
Technology is the equipment and technique is the way that technology is used. For us the real value in recording technology advances is using that technology in the se
rvice of the music and not being dominated by it. Our aim is always to find a better way to realize the music, a way that lets the players do what they do best without any part of the technology getting in the way.
The initial releases in Delos’ VRR Series present large musical resources recorded in large spaces, which will demonstrate clearly the evolutionary step VRR represents. In the first release — Gliere’s Symphony No. 2 and Red Poppy Suite, with Maestro Zdenek Macal conducting the New Jersey Symphony — we have the grand sweep of large-scale Russian music that lends itself perfectly to this kind of treatment. Gliere’s rich orchestration complements the acoustics of the room and its feeling of space.
The timbres and variety of the orchestra benefit from this recording treatment: multiple winds, bass clarinets, contrabassoons, rich percussion — and above all the sumptuous string writing! The string writing has a great dynamic range and dimension — high and low — in terms of frequency response. And the real challenge in recording this music is to capture the visceral quality of the sound — sheer beautiful sound, and yet presented in the context of Gliere’s music.
Just as the earlier eras of high fidelity and stereo evoked the grand symphonic literature of the first half of the 20th Century, we are again looking towards that and the Romantic periods to best demonstrate the advantages of VRR technology. It is as if a colorful work such as the Gliere Second Symphony were just waiting for VRR. Maestro Zdenek Macal’s dynamic performance of the Symphony in this context inspires the question: “Where has this music been all my life?”