Wednesday 12 November 2008

A few months ago I reviewed a CD of Finzi's music with James Gilchrist as the tenor soloist. Gilchrist's voice sounded alarmingly stressed at the top, so much so that I did wonder about his vocal health. But shortly afterwards we heard him live and he sounded his usual mellifluous self. Gilchrist was the soloist on Sunday on the Radio 3 programme about RVW's On Wenlock Edge. Again Gilchrist's voice sounded stressed. I can only put this down to a tendency for recording engineers to place the microphones too close, so that his voice does not have time to settle.

This is a problem which can occur most frequently with big voices. Many years ago Jane Eaglen, in interview, said that at that time she was happy with only one of her recordings, the Chandos Tosca. She explained how big voices were difficult to record and this was born out by her Chandos Aida and Turandot, where the Turandot was superb but the Aida gave her a significant beat in her voice.

We have recently acquired the new Halle Dream of Gerontius, here is its Bryn Terfel's voice which causes concern. Though he is admirably firm of tone and with superb diction, the recording captures an exceptional beat in the voice. I suspect that if you heard him live, this would not be a problem as the voice would have had time to settle in the distance between him and you in the concert hall. Obviously the decision taken on the recording was that immediacy was more important than avoiding the beat in Terfel's voice.

Perhaps it is me, perhaps I'm a little to allergic to excessive beat in voices. But I am becoming increasingly aware that our recorded experience can entirely fail to reflect the reality.


  1. Anonymous8:31 pm

    I have the CD...Dream of Gerontius... I am not sure what you mean by "the recording captures an exceptional beat in the voice."

    Phyllis :-)

  2. By beat I mean a wide, rather slow moving vibrato. Heard from a distance, in the concert hall, this can sound effective in Terfel's voice, but heard close to on the recording you are a little too aware of the pitch variation.


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