When I listen to recordings of solo piano music featuring extreme dynamic contrasts - like the music of Debussy - the pianissimo passages seem impossibly quiet. Even if I turn up my stereo volume so that the loud passages seem like the volume of a real piano the quiet parts still seem less volume than a real piano would produce.
On the one hand I'm amazed someone can have such incredible touch, but on the other hand as a listener I'm often annoyed, because the piano either disappears in quiet parts, or I have crank the volume to hear it and then the loud parts are much louder than a real piano.
Understanding the connections between performance expression, listener distance, timbre and volume gets confusing, because loud/soft expressive dynamics and listener distance seem more about timbre than simple decibels. Certainly if I turn the stereo volume up or down it doesn't change the perception of whether the player was playing gently/forcefully or whether the mic just above the strings.
A recording engineer could play with volume levels and fade between close or distant mics to accentuate a performance, or maybe it's better to say "represent" a performance in playback. That playback doesn't necessarily need to realistically recreate decibel levels as hear by a single listener in a fixed spot.
Anyway, I don't really know how this kind of music gets recorded, and haven't done something like try to measure decibels of a real piano versus recording playback. I'm hoping someone here has some professional knowledge to share for the non-professional.
Recently I figured out how to use the compression in Audacity and applied something around ratio 3:1 and threshold -40 dB to a recording of Debussy piano music just to see how it would sound. The result was a pretty extreme flattening of the dynamics, and I feel bad desecrating a good recording, but playback all cuts through the background noise of my house now at moderate volume!
All joking aside, when I did that compression I thought: maybe recording engineers do the same in reverse and accentuate the dynamic contrasts?
In an ideal setting would the decibel measure of a real piano from the position of the microphones be equal to ideal playback of the final mixed recording?