OLD LYME, CONNECTICUT - JULY 2009: The awards and accolades earned by the work of Stile Antico would be an accomplishment for even a seasoned vocal ensemble, but their meteoric rise to fame in the classical music world makes their successes all the more impressive. Comprised of twelve young British singers, Stile Antico first attracted the attention of harmonia mundi usa's artistic director, Robina Young, at the 2005 Early Music Network International Young Artists' Competition. From there, the group's debut disc on the harmonia mundi label earned a Grammy nomination, an appearance at number two in the Billboard Classical chart and a raft of superlative reviews. They have won both the Diapason d'Or and the Diapason D'Or de l'AnnÃ©e, the Choc du Monde de la Musique, and the Preis der Deustchen Schallplattenkritik. The group toured the world with Sting in support of his "Songs from the Labyrinth" project. In short, Stile Antico is the Tiger Woods of vocal ensembles.
So when harmonia mundi assigned recording engineer Brad Michel with the task of recording their fourth disc, expectations were high. The recording would be of music penned four-and-a-half centuries ago by Renaissance composer John Sheppard, and the sound stage would be All Hallows Church in the Gospel Oak neighborhood of London. Sheppard is arguably the most renowned English church composer of the Tudor era, and the acoustics of All Hallows approach perfection. Thus, the performers, the material, and the space were all of the highest caliber. Fortunately, Michel, who has recorded hundreds of albums for harmonia mundi and earned copious praise and numerous awards for his audiophile recordings (including a 2007 Grammy), had the skill to capture such a rare confluence of greatness.
Of course, he also had the right equipment, starting with a pair of Sennheiser MKH 800 condensers for the primary stereo pickup. Set far back from the vocalists and high up in the air as an omni pair, the MKH 800s were targeted to capture not just the performers, but also their interaction with the acoustic space.
"The MKH 800s are simply clear, precise and true," said Michel. "I wasn't trying to give the recording any kind of 'sound.' To simply capture the magic in the room would give us the best recording we could hope for. In my experience, the MKH 800s are pretty rare because they don't have a color of their own. They're clean, but not boring clean. Far from sterile, they capture the rich texture of the music and the room. They were the ideal front-end for a project like this."
The remainder of the minimalist signal chain was also of the highest quality. Another pair of microphones located six feet behind the Sennheisers and slightly farther apart provided surround pickup. All four microphones had short cable runs to an eight-channel, remote-controlled Millennia Media HV-3R preamp. The output of the preamp fed an EMM Labs Meitner DSD converter for capture in a Pyramix Pure DSD Recording Workstation. It was truly a "less is more" approach.
harmonia mundi will release the stunning results of the quick three-day session as an SACD later this year.
ABOUT SENNHEISER ELECTRONIC CORPORATION Sennheiser is a world-leading manufacturer of microphones, headphones and wireless transmission systems. Established in 1945 in Wedemark, Germany, Sennheiser is now a global brand represented in 60 countries around the world with U.S. headquarters in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Sennheiser's pioneering excellence in technology has rewarded the company with numerous awards and accolades including an Emmy, a Grammy, and the Scientific and Engineering Award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
For more information, please visit www.sennheiserusa.com
PHOTO CAPTION Sennheiser MKH 800s were used by Brad Michel of harmonia mundi to record Stile Antico performing the music of John Sheppard in All Hallows Church, in the Gospel Oak neighborhood of London.