I will never forget where I was when I heard the first strains of “Air” from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068 on Anne Akiko Meyer’s Air – The Bach Album (about which more here).
I was at my desk; somehow I was directed to her website and the landing page had it playing. I don’t think I breathed for a couple minutes. I was stunned at how this music instantly connected with me and drew me in. Even through the web, the sound quality was amazing (with some help from my wonderful Grado SR60i headphones -love my Grados); I heard it as if I was in the center of the room where she was playing, conveniently enough, with the English Chamber Orchestra.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it was Bach and the playing that drew me in; content and performance are king. However, it was the quality and intimacy of the recording that stunned me. Yet that quality of closeness was something I wanted to share, so I grabbed my boss and a few co-workers throughout the afternoon to have them listen. Musical intimacy is an intimacy to be shared :)
I would love to be one of those people who can look past the production of an album to hear its inner greatness. I see recommendations all of the time for some historic record of Heifetz or that Wilhelm Furtwangler’s recording of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic is the cat’s meow. I then listen to a sample and it seems to be distant and murky. It may be fabulous but I cannot get past the recording. I can do this with movies (somewhat) but not as easily with music.
I think, however, the sense of intimacy some artists engender is more than great sound engineers (as important as they are). There are some artists who seem to consistently draw you in and make you part of the moment. I can easily think of a few: Anne Akiko Meyers, Diana Krall, Joshua Bell and Melody Gardot. Different genres but same sense of closeness.
I’ve spent hours mesmerized by Joshua Bell’s, along with Michael Tilson Thomas and the Berliner Philharmonker, rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major. Blair Sanderson says it well: “This album offers exceptionally realistic depth and almost palpable presence.” It is that palpable presence these artist provide. They are in the room with you.
So what ever combination of artist, sound studio, mikes and production it takes to pass on that palpable presence, thank you. It is musical magic. I’m sure you’ve had your magical moments when the music was intimately inside you. Don’t we all long for those moments and to share them.