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  • J. S. Bach - Harpsichord Concerto 5, BWV 1056 - I. Allegro

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    Hello everybody,

    here's the opening Allegro of Bach's fifth harpsichord concerto.

    Chamber Strings, Cembalo

    MIR, Vienna Konzerthaus, Mozartsaal

    I hope you enjoy.

  • This isn't great but it's not bad either The stereo image needs to be narrowed slightly because in practice this would be a fairly small combo and not stretched out all over a stage like a full blown orchestra. Also, the harpsichord needs to be in your face more. After all, this is meant to be a 'harpsichord concerto' which means....the harpsichord should really stand out and not be swamped by the strings. The strings need to be tightened up too and narrowed. They sound a bit sloppy through too much reverb. This would be a small venue and a small combo and written that way - almost subliminally.

    I've played this piece live a few times.

  • Thanks a lot for listening and taking the time to comment, Paul.  

      In fact, this piece is giving me more than one headache (^_^) from the mock-up to the mix. The first one I uploaded had a terrible stereo image, and I changed it by this one after talking to Klaus, although the balance (or better said unbalance) between the strings and the soloist was maybe more evident in the original mix (that was intended as you describe, with the solo harpsichord right in your face). 

      MIR seemed to be very intuitive at first sight, but it's revealing to be much more trickier as I use it. After reading the manual, I understood many things I was not doing right, but there are still things I am not able to control. I find it difficult in many cases to predict how the room will behave, and match the visual image of the stage with the acoustic results. In this mix you heard, I moved to the smaller Shubertsaal and narrowed the instrumental setting significantly, but from your words I can see it's clearly not enough. 

      I can get better results recording the strings and the solo separately, and then mixing them outside MIR, but I'd like to get the basic image I have in mind using just one MIR project, so I will try again to have this more or less nicely done.

      Again, many thanks for your suggestions. They're really helpful. 

  • One of the problems with a harpsichord - either live or recorded or even through a sequencer - is the physicality of the instrument.

    By that I just mean the way it actually responds when played. Not like a piano which is a percussion instrument. With a harpsichord you either play

    f or p. Tutti and all of that. Quills that pluck - make it  the harder you hit the keys - it just doesn't get louder. So with a piece where the harpsichord is featured (they're obviously not always featured in Bach or Handel etc) - then getting it stand out is more difficult than just turning things up or turning other things down.

    Someone once described the sound of the harpsichord as 2 skeletons copulating on a corrugated tin roof.

    I don't agree. It's more like a slate roof with a slight slant.  (difficult to say that quickly btw)

    Not many people know this - but the harpsichord is almost certainly an English invention. And it's also interesting to note that Bach almost certainly wrote the very first keyboard concerto.

  •  The someone in question was Sir Thomas Beecham who also said, of the third movement of Beethoven's 7th symphony:

    "What can you do with it? - It's like a lot of yaks jumping about."


  • If we talk about realism, we should not forget that a real harpsichord, playing with a real orchestra, cannot simply be turned louder. If we do it in a recording, it results in a synthetic sound because our ears don't know that balance from the real world. Often the harpsichord is just covered by the other instruments.

    Let's compare to this example (BWV 1050):

    ...okay... I like the playing, but I have to admit, the recording is just the other extreme: The microphones seem to be miles away, there's nothing but reverb mud and nearly no stereo field at all.

    Servando's setting sounds to me like the listener being very close to the harpsichord, placed in the middle of the orchestra.
    Maybe like Abbado's place in this one:


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    Well, today I've listened to no less than a dozen recordings of BWV 1056. It was just enlightening. I've heard almost everything possible... and the impossible also (harpsichord wide spread over the stereo field with a lot of reverb (I mean not just wet, soaked), and the strings in the middle quite dry and tiny. I should have noted down the recording for reference (^_^). It was literally in-credible.

    In general, I was surprised to see that my version was one the driest. I could also hear both approaches, the "soloist" vs. the "chamber ensemble" kind of mixes, but even in the more "focused on the solo" kind of mix, the strings dominated in the tuttis. Being almost a newborn to the world of mixing, I could hear enormous differences in all the recordings, but I still don't have any fixed reference to look after ("blessed ignorance", we say in Spanish). I guess I still can bear it all (^_^).

    Nevertheless, I am much more confortable with a mix which doesn't distract me from the overall perspective of the music being played. In truth, I must confess that, used to listen to music in concert halls, any recording that I could possibly hear sounds quite "unreal" to me... though maybe much better and cleaner, which I think it's what adds pleasure to the experience. Indeed, I like the best VSL demos here because they are exceptionally "unrealistic" to my ears: they sound as if you were in heaven with super-hearing powers (^_^).

    Anyway, I want to thank everybody in this post for making me know his point of view, especially Klaus who took the time to find those examples in youtube. It's really helpful and enriching to read so many contrasting opinions. Two weeks ago, I was a little shy to post my first tracks in this forum... happily I did it, for I feel I am learning from all of you in "fastforward mode". Many thanks.

    Although I like my first mix's feel more, I have uploaded a new mix in soundcloud, which creates the necessary conflict among them, the second being drier, the harpsichord unnaturally present, the string ensemble moved a little backwards and stereo feel considerably narrowed (EQ and some articulations also changed to give the strings a little clearer attacks).

    At this moment, I can only spoil any of these mixes if I go on tweaking. Let's leave them so. It's my 6th track. The 60thh will be better (^_-). Beethoven (without the yaks) or Haydn for the weekend? Gute Nacht!

  • Hi Servando,

        I really like Mix B for all the unnatural and unrealistic reasons!


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    @Pusteblumi said:

    Incredibly that was the 2 youtube examples I was going to post. Incredible! Don't believe it actually. Are you psychic?

    The second of the 2 - I watched them perform all the Brandenburgs just recently on Sky Arts I think it was. Went on for hours and I really enjoyed it.

    The interesting thing about the first troupe of players (who are fantastic too) is they're seemingly in a fairly large room but shoved down one end. Straightaway you can see the issues with recording and reverberation just from observing without even actually hearing anything. Just by looking at the room/hall.

    You can immediately hear the difference in the harpsichord sound via the recording. In the first it's more a continuo thing, but it's featured a lot more in Brandenburg 5 obviously.

    In this example, the harpsichord has been moved back into more of a continuo position. Bach writes amazing counterpoint for each individual instrument and it's like a precision Swiss watch. It's organic writing. No prisoners and no hiding place. Phenomenal and it just doesn't get any better than this.

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    @PaulR said:

     Bach writes amazing counterpoint for each individual instrument and it's like a precision Swiss watch. It's organic writing. No prisoners and no hiding place. 

     I think it's brilliantly expressed. It's definitely this paradox of "organic precision" in his contrapuntal fabric what makes Bach a king among kings. One can only approach his music to fall at his feet and remember how far one is from perfection. I can only imagine Mozart's reaction when he listened to BWV 225 in Leipzig. Ah, I only wish I were Rochlizt to witness the moment!! Let's not talk about Bach, please... I may go "religious", even "dogmatic" (^_^)

      Thanks for listening, Tom. 

  • Hi Servando, thanks for this very nice performance of this harpsichord concerto (one of my prefered). Nice job ! These masterpieces are always very difficult to record : the harpsichord is too far or too close, and when you want to put it closer when you mix, the balance seems unnatural. May be because the balance depends on the number of string players ... with a small strings ensemble, it is easier to reach a correct result. Here is the beginning of the 1rst mouvement of BWV 1054, in a very different approach of reverb. I use only solo strings for orchestra.Philippe,

  • Hi, here is the full version. Happy easter to everybody ! Philippe

  • Hi, Philippe.

      Thanks for your example. You're right about the difficult balance between the harpsichord and the chamber strings (they're 6 Violins...), but it must be possible to achieve good results anyway. The solo strings sounds to me just a little thin even for small baroque ensembles, but my next move will definitely be towards incorporating them in my performances. 

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    @servandus said:

    ...You're right about the difficult balance between the harpsichord and the chamber strings (they're 6 Violins...), but it must be possible to achieve good results anyway. The solo strings sounds to me just a little thin even for small baroque ensembles, ...

    Hi servandus

    Tip: Play your piece once with the chamber strings and once with the solostrings.

    Route each mix - the chambers and the solos - through a separate Bus so that you are able to adjust a balance between the solos and the chambers.

    The acustic result isn't a larger ensemble no, it is somthing between solos and chambers.

    An additional advatage: The strings sound even more rich because you get the distinctive vibrato of the solos in addition.

    So you will get "VSL's Adagio Strings" or "VSL's LASS-Strings".

    Try it out and you will be the happiest man on earth.    [;)]


    BTW: In the early days of VSL (without having the chambers) we mixed the orchestras with the solos for playing baroque music.. (VSL, 8 years back... not bad isn't it?)

    - Tips & Tricks while using Samples of VSL.. see at: - Tutorial "Mixing an Orchestra":
  • Hi Beat,

      Thank you very, very much for your post and your audio example. It's really nice to get support and advice from all of you. So far, I've only layered samples using the slots VI Pro provides, and just for certain articulations. I'm currently working on a set of little piano pieces I also probably post here, but be sure that in my next try at strings (which will be either a Haydn or Beethoven) I will definitely use your approach. It will also be helpful to getting to know the solo strings library.

      Again, many thanks. I let you know when I'm the happiest man on Earth with my VSLASS strings (^_^)

  • PaulP Paul moved this topic from Orchestration & Composition on