This requires some comment. The MacDowell is a ‘Music Minus One’
performance and the Clara Schumann features a Midi Orchestra.
So, as the pianist Frederick Moyer announces in his section of
the notes, this is an experiment in using computers, the first
such – he thinks – in classical music.
This is so unusual
a concept that a brief background is in order, though given
the circumstances background has become foreground. Moyer wanted
to prepare for his concerto engagements so developed computer
software that allowed him to play along with an ‘orchestra.’
He attempted to solve the ‘orchestral return’ dilemma (when
the soloist stops and the band comes back) via a foot pedal;
apparently effectively. Advances in computer technology and
sampling have enabled him to employ a midi artist, Dan Kury,
who has contribute materially to the sound of the ‘orchestra’.
The easier of the two to evaluate is the
MacDowell. Having practised with the backing, Moyer was able
to establish how best to accommodate his performance with that
of the inflexible band. They were separately tracked of course.
Well, the results are fairly predictable. The Plovdiv Philharmonic
Orchestra is serviceable only. The first piano entry sounds
like a 1950s Rubinstein set-up, very ‘piano first, band take
the hindmost.’ The recording itself is a touch drab and dull.
In the slow movement lower string lines are semi-audible but
Moyer justifies the experiment through his alternately expressive
and vivacious playing in the finale.
The Clara Schumann Midi performance is enlightening
to hear, given the rapid advances in this kind of technology.
I remember, years ago, reviewing a series of Midi recordings
produced by a composer. They sound antediluvian in comparison
to these very much more sophisticated efforts. The solo cello
in the second movement is ‘real’ – elsewhere one must note the
lack of body in the generated sound. As a simulacrum of a symphonic
body of instruments though it’s actually rather good.
This kind of experiment generates questions
as to authenticity of sound, the role of editing, computerised
sonics, and the nature generally of technology in the recording
process. Moyer proselytises for Music Minus One partly on the
grounds that the more people play instruments the better it
This experiment, borne of frustration at
not being able to record with an orchestra, occupies, as yet,
a small place in what may well prove to be a more wide-ranging
examination of Midi in the years to come.