It was in response to an awareness of the neglect of the lesser-known piano music of the Romantic era that the award-winning English concert pianist and scholar John Kersey founded Romantic Discoveries Recordings. Today, Romantic Discoveries Recordings is a small specialist independent recording label distinguished by its mission of making available hitherto unrecorded piano works of the Romantic era (principally the second half of the nineteenth-century) for the benefit of scholars and connoisseurs of this era alike.
Since its foundation, RDR has made available first recordings of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Alkan, Reinecke, Huber and many more neglected composers, based on ongoing research in archives, among fellow enthusiasts, with the aid of antiquarian dealers and on dusty shelves wherever they are to be found. It produces a steady stream of discs that aim to intrigue and entertain in equal measure.
Our customers have been located in every continent of the world and have been uniformly enthusiastic about what we have offered them. In return we value their support greatly and always welcome suggestions of new material for recording, including scores of rare nineteenth-century works. Our CDs are not available in shops or online stores, and are sold exclusively through this website.
Romantic Discoveries Recordings is an associate research centre of All Saints College, Dublin, reflecting its role in promulgating original research and scholarship into the music of the past.
The Romantic Discoveries project started life as an online archive of Mp3 files, developing into a series of commercial CD releases in response to demand. It has been featured on “This Week in Classical Music” with Randy Kinkel on KBAQ 89.5 FM (USA), on Laura Allen’s show “Music in the Afternoon” on West Virginia Public Broadcasting Radio (USA), WCPE 89.7 FM Classical News (USA) and on NCRV Radio (Holland); in an article by Emily Quinn for Playbill Arts (“Unknown 19th Century Works Assembled in Internet Archive”) and in the Chicago Chronicle.
From February 2005, John Kersey was Editor’s Pick – Classical on CNET’s Download.com highlighting his work in the Romantic Discoveries project, and featured in Vitaminic.co.uk’s Spotlight for Classical/Instrumental. In March 2005 he was #3 in the Download.com chart for Classical – Solo Instrumental out of 42 artists.
The aim of Romantic Discoveries Recordings is to present performances in an ambience faithful to the composer’s intentions and in as natural a sound quality as possible. Today, the most commonly encountered venues for solo piano recordings, aside from the commercial studio, are empty churches and empty concert halls. These, being large and often resonant spaces, rarely manage to evoke successfully the intimate atmosphere of the nineteenth-century salon. Nor does the use of a large concert grand piano reflect the reality of the semi-domestic performance setting of the nineteenth-century, where the mid-sized grand piano was far more commonly encountered and provided a balance of tonal qualities that tended more towards lyricism than power.
Based on the theory that we only hear music from one perspective in space – where our head is – we use single microphone rather than multi-microphone techniques for our current recordings, positioning the microphone so as to take the place of an ideally situated listener – close enough to hear all of the detail in the beautiful sound of our instrument, but far enough away that the effect is not claustrophobic or unduly dry. Some years of experimentation and trial and error with different setups have taken us to the point where our current catalogue represents what we believe to be our best ever sound quality. Nevertheless, our releases are not intended primarily as audiophile products, and we try to avoid most of the audio manipulation techniques that have become an accepted part of the modern studio sound.
The piano, too, has special qualities that are particularly suited to this music. It is John Kersey’s personal instrument and has been with him for nearly twenty years, during which time it has developed into a mature and focussed piano reflecting the art of Steinway’s Hamburg builders at its best. Passionate about late nineteenth-century pianos, particularly the work of Blüthner, Bechstein and Grotrian-Steinweg, John Kersey looks for the same tonal qualities of dynamic and expressive variety in a modern instrument, with the added benefit of greater structural and technical stability and reliability.
The recording process is fully digital from start to finish. Unusually, John Kersey is not only the pianist on his recordings, but also a self-taught audio engineer, and it is he who edits the recording and makes all interpretative decisions as to which takes are to be kept and which discarded. In doing this, he takes inspiration from two pianists of the past: Gunnar Johansen of the University of Wisconsin, who produced a vast discography from his home studio using tape editing, and Canadian visionary Glenn Gould, who predicted that one day the recording process would pass from the hands of the specialist producer into those of the artist and even the audience. In a small way, we have brought this latter outcome one step closer.