Zenph Studios applies its "re-performance" technology to a selection of Sergei Rachmaninov's flat discs for RCA Victor, recorded between 1921 and 1942. I described the company's process in an earlier review, and it bears reiterating. Zenph employs a software application that analyzes a recorded piano performance by separating its pianistic attributes from mechanical and environmental factors to an unprecedented degree of specificity and refinement. The information then is encoded to high-definition MIDI files that are played through a piano equipped to do so--in this case, a 1909 Steinway, painstakingly rebuilt by Faust Harrison Pianos.
How well do the Zenph re-performances replicate the originals? In one instance,Read more perhaps a little too well: the split note near the beginning of Rachmaninov's 1942 Kreisler Liebesfreud here emerges clean as a whistle. Elsewhere, the phrasings, pedalings, dynamic relationships, and tempos appear accurate to an impressively high degree. However, certain rapid passages that project extraordinary lightness and point on disc sound slightly heavier via Zenph, such as The Flight of the Bumblebee's buzzing runs. Crescendos yield more pronounced sustain pedal and darker colorations on the disc version of the Tchaikovsky/Rachmaninov Lullaby Op. 16 No. 1. Certain detaché articulations in the Mendelssohn Midsummer Night's Dream Scherzo seem softer, less hard-hitting under Zenph's watch.
The re-performances are programmed twice: first in surround-sound, then again in two-channel stereo from the perspective of the pianist at the keyboard. Given Rachmaninov's perfectionist attitude in the recording studio, one wonders what he would have made of this fascinating and potentially controversial project.