Janine Elliot spends a day in the studio with Mike Valentine

February 14th is a very special day for those lucky enough to be in love. To celebrate the annual Valentine’s Day, Mike Valentine (spot the link there….) from  Chasing the Dragon has decided to produce a lovely disc of music from Spain, including Rimsky Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol and Chabrier’s Espana, conducted by Debbie Wiseman and featuring The National Symphony Orchestra, with mezzo-soprano, Rosie Middleton singing two pieces from Bizet’s Carmen, “Habanera” and “Gypsy Song”. This follows the recent success of their “Direct Cut” recording of Clare Teal performing “A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald” with the Syd Lawrence orchestra, which was put forward for a Grammy award. Originally the recording was to take place on Valentine ’s Day, but was actually held on Friday the 10th February, and I was lucky enough to be there for this recording, as I was also for the previous disc.

“A Tribute to Spain” was recorded at Air Studios in North London in the large hall of what originally was a church, a building more made famous by George Martin who sadly died a year ago on 6th March. The previous album featuring Clare Teal was recorded in another of the 4 studios in the building, but with such a big orchestra nothing could be more appropriate than the main Lyndhurst hall. This is a massive 300m² hexagonal live area and has two isolation booths, motorised acoustic canopy and three raised galleries plus a Steinway Model D concert grand piano when required. This room also features a large church organ and even an upstairs for visitors. It is also a reverberant room meaning that there was no need for electronic wizardry to simulate a large room other than using a TC Electronics reverb for the solo vocal.  Rupert Coulson, who engineered the tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, was there also for this recording, balancing on a massive 96 channel Neve 88R mixing desk, and simultaneously recording directly onto Ortofon VMS80 cutting lathe, in another room up on the second floor. As soon as the needle started to cut into the acetate, a red light went on and Debbie Wiseman started to conduct the orchestra. There would need to be no stopping now and at £50 for each acetate disc it was important there were no mistakes. In all, two versions of side A and three versions of side B were made so that the best performance could be chosen.

Using the legendary valve Neumann U47 microphone and plethora of microphones including DPA, plus the famous Decca-Tree set up of three omni-directional microphones, this was a well set up recording. What is very important in this new disc is that as well as producing it on Direct Cut Disc it will also be released on double DSD (5.6MHz), and for headphone lovers like myself as part of a binaural album using the excellent Neumann KU100 binaural microphone, carefully placed above the conductor. Listening on Sennheiser HP600 cans the “out of the head” effect of the dummy-head-stereo recording was like being on the conductor’s rostrum. The digital recordings were made on a Tascam DA3000 (DSD 5.6MHz) and also on a Nagra VI (24/192). The event was also recorded on reel to reel at 30ips using a Studer A820 with the possibility that 15ips copies can be purchased later, if Chasing the Dragon choose to do so.

This was a brilliant day with great performances and great balancing. Full review of the final disc will appear shortly on Hifi Pig, but can be sure this will be a great recording for the audiophile and music lover, too, whether or not you’re in love.

Janine Elliot



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