Originally Posted by bigshot
Close miking and sharp resolution may be making the sound less real, rather than more real sounding
I agree. To make a more detailed comment on violin sound, I have always despised recordings by both Jascha Heifetz and particularly Itzhak Perlman. The reason is that the violin sound is just far too close (sounds more like the "under the ear sound" I had as a player - only even more so - like the sound is being forceably drilled right into my head). On the other hand, in live performances they have always been wonderful players and have sounded very natural in the concert hall. Even Perlman himself has stated that Heifetz sounded much better from the listener's perspective in the concert hall than he did in any of his recordings regardless of the quality of reproduction equipment used. But it's funny that he (Perlman) should talk, because he is by far a much worse offender than Heifetz ever was in my opinion. If you want the ultimate in Perlman sin, you just need to listen to a two CD set he put out of classic movie themes. It's a wonderful way to enjoy the abrasively un-natural sound from a violin "f" hole 2 inches away from your ear canal with the rest of the orchestra ten miles from your head.
Perhaps Heifetz had a reasonable excuse - back in the 1950s and 60s, hifi equipment really flourished with that sort of forward balancing recording technique - and the resultant balance actually seemed a bit more natural with the reproduction characteristics of those old speakers, valve amps, etc. But Perlman does not have such an excuse - but interestingly his earlier recordings up until the dawn of the digital age don't suffer these problems to anywhere near such an extent. He made an analogue recording of the Berg Concerto for DG some time back in the 1970s and his tone was actually very faithfully rendered on the original LP and even the CD reissue - even though it was still too forward in the mix. Everything seemed to go downhill sonically after that in terms of the fidelity of his recordings, even though his actual playing didn't.
But I actually feel there is a third factor as to why many older analogue recordings of violins sound "better". I think it has to do with strong choice. Back in the day the main choices of string for orchestral musicians and soloists were Pirastro Eudoxa or Olive, plus there were American strings by Kaplan. To my ears, these strings have always presented a sound more akin to my traditional expectation of violin sound. You got more overtones with these older wound gut strings, they were warmer, the response and attack charateristics were different and they required a more subtle bow technique. And the more subtle bow technique also had it's own influence on the sound.
In all those old Mercury, Decca and RCA recordings from the 50s and 60s, it's not modern synthetic strings you are hearing - it's most likely wound gut - or in Heifetz's case it was a metal "E", plain gut "A" and "D" and a wound gut "G". This string choice also helped shape in a small way Heifet'z unique sound, as did the metal "A" that Oistrakh was famous for.
The most accurate recording I possess as regards violin sound is actually a modern redbook recording of young Ann Fontanella playing some solo pieces. One can quite obviously tell the equipment used was nothing special (there is even some power supply hum!). But perhaps the simplicity of the recording process, together with the fact that she uses plain gut strings on the lower three strings helps account for this natural sound. Of course, she is a superb player too and I find her "old school" sound very endearing.