David Milsom (violin) and Joanna Staruch-Smolec (violin) recorded L. Spohr’s duo op. 67 no. 2 under the supervision of recording engineer Duncan Miller, during the fourth symposium of the network, held at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London on 30th September 2022.
Listen to David’s and Joanna’s transferred cylinder below:
Joanna’s and David’s commentaries on the experience:
First to note was the need to truncate this movement (recorded famously by Jelly d’Aranyi and Adela Fachiri in 1924 by the acoustic process, but for 12-inch disc) to allow for the cylinder medium. This proved quite difficult to do without unduly defacing the structure of the music. It was tempting to play this fairly quickly as well, but the need to ‘represent’ the work was an interesting practical and philosophical issue even before we stood before the recording horn, as this implicitly creates a very different relationship with the music (and indeed, very different definition of what ‘the music’ in fact is!)
Our recording attempt (since this point we have also undertaken an acoustic disc recording, in the light of experiences) highlighted the difficulties of doing so generically. Specifically, balancing the two violins and finding a position in which we could play this was quite difficult. The fact that repertoire was chosen in order to allow for a satisfactory recording is well-known, but the specific technical elements are not perhaps fully grasped until one actually does this: string crossings when trying to get the violin f-holes very close to the horn meant needing to stand a little slant-wise, and this work had quite a lot of them, with a commensurately great movement of the bow, not only sideways, but also in a vertical arc in view of the bridge curvature. This somewhat compromised the audibility.
We recorded with two horns, one per violin, but in hindsight, a single horn might have worked better since the recording, whilst reasonably well-balanced, is very quiet. Discussion in the symposium session revealed to us that there is less of an ‘air leak’ with a single horn and therefore this might have worked better from a technical point of view.
As one of very few with experience otherwise of making acoustic recordings (as shown by the ‘Austro-German Revivals’ CD and digital download album I undertook with Inja Stanovic previously) I was struck by how different it is to make a cylinder as opposed to disc recording. This is perhaps a salutary lesson that not all acoustic recording is the same.
In retrospect, I am pleased we managed to play as well as we did: trying to play this quite challenging music accurately in these conditions – to say nothing of the highly qualified live audience there as well! – was not easy, but the opportunity to do so was a pleasure and a privilege!
Joanna: This recording gave me the precious possibility of playing with David and trying to learn from his experience. This recording was more challenging in terms of organisation in space than the one I did with piano; I had to ensure having some contact with David and seeing the score, while still projecting into my horn. This came on top of my fresh experience with gut strings, especially in terms of controlling double stops and string crossings. Nevertheless, I am very pleasantly surprised with the final result, I love how the acoustic technology blends the sound of the two violins together.