Recordings as reality
I was listening to a strong quartet on youtube and there were a lot of comments that the viola player was not playing loud enough. And indeed one did not hear the viola part as much as one would like. But if one looked carefully one could see easily that the mikes((this was recording of a live performance) were in front, spaced apart in such a way that the viola was further from either mike than any other instrument.
But the viewers were assuming that the sound they heard was the reality.
People should be more skeptical of recordings! We here all know that recording technqiues have a huge signature, that all you really know about the sound from a recording was the pitch (more or less) unless you know how the recording was made, with which microphones, etc. But I think the public is less aware, even the seriously musical people(there are not too many musically naive people listening to Brhams string quartets, I would guess though one comment was that the listener was enjoying the piece for the first time and had never liked Brahms before). People will even coment on violin tone from recordings--including critics who ought to know better. Do you really think that Heifetz sounded like those RCA records? I hope not--because he didn't.
- Unfortunately, someone invariably suffers from the seating arrangement of a string quartet. I think the most typical configuration - looking at a quartet from the audience and looking left to right - is first violin, second violin, cello, viola. This means that everyone but the violist has his or her instrument facing the audience. The poor violist's instrument is facing, at best, the first violinist. If the violist is persuasive, perhaps he/she will convince the cellist to take the outside seat!
- Thanks, Ned, for clarifying this. I like the sound of the viola and often would like more of it in quartet performances. You have given one reason that occasionally I see a quartet put the viola between v2 and vc.