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Souvenir
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Serenade for Strings , Op. 48
I. Pezzo in forma di Sonatina [9:22]
II. Walzer [3:59]
III. Élégie [8:42]
IV. Finale (Tema Russo) [7:44]
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Suite for String Orchestra, Op. 1
I. Prelude [3:09]
II. Intermezzo [5:31]
III. Finale [6:47]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY
Souvenir de Florence, Op. 70
I. Allegro con spirito [11:12]
II. Adagio cantabile e con moto [10:11]
III. Allegretto moderato [6:27]
IV. Allegro vivace [7:31]
Carl NIELSEN
Ved en Ung Kunstners Baare, FS.58 [4:42]
Trondheim Solistene
rec. May and October 2011, Selbu Church, Norway
Pure Audio Blu-ray (24/192 dts-HD Master Audio 5.1; 24/96 dts-HD Master Audio 7.1; 24/96 Auro-3D 9.1; 24/192 PCM stereo). Downloadable mp3, wav, 24/96 and 24/192 flac files, cover art and booklet
2L-090-PABD BD-A [85:17]
 
Remote Galaxy
Flint Juventino BEPPE (b. 1973)
Remote Galaxy, Op.81* [18:34]
Distant Words, Op.43b**
I. Typhoon at Heart [10:23]
II. Healed by Red Wind [5:38]
Lost in September, Op.17 [9:12]
Tightrope walking beneath heaven, Op. 32 No. 8 [3:51]
Flute Concerto No. 2, Op. 80
I. Alarm [7:10]
II. Deepest Woods [5:31]
III. Escaping Time Power [5:29]
IV. Mrala [5:01]
*Ralph Rousseau (viola da gamba)
**Mark van de Wiel (clarinet)
***Emily Beynon (flute)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy
rec. May 2012, Watford Colosseum, UK
Pure Audio Blu-ray (24/192 dts-HD Master Audio 5.1; 24/96 dts-HD Master Audio 7.1; 24/96 Auro-3D 9.1; 24/96 PCM stereo). Downloadable mp3, wav and 24/96 flac files, booklet & cover art
2L-100-PABD BD-A [82:00]

In my first 2L BD-A review I began with an irreverent reference to a holiday on Mars, so it seems appropriate that my second should include a disc entitled Remote Galaxy. Those who have been following the Blu-ray Audio debate on these pages will know that Norway’s 2L are leaders in this new technology. Apart from their dedication to superior sonics – which begins with unusual microphone placement and instrumental layouts, diagrams of which are given in the booklets – they cater for listeners of all stripes. For instance, their BD-As offer a number of audio options, plus downloadable music files, the latter easily accessible via a clever piece of software called mShuttle.
 
2L’s Morten Lindberg makes no apologies for promoting multi-channel, as he considers stereo to be‘one-dimensional’. That’s why the surround audio choices on these BD-As are so extensive, including a 9.1 mix called Auro-3D, which attempts to locate music vertically as well as horizontally. It appears a special decoder is required for the latter, but that’s likely to appeal to only the most dedicated audiophiles with deep pockets and large listening rooms. These advances are fascinating, and Lindberg writes with infectious enthusiasm about his quest for top-notch sound.
 
A quick perusal of my earlier review will confirm just how good the sonics of these BD-As really are, even if – like me – you listen in stereo. Their recordings, taken from high-res DXD masters, have a tonal accuracy and three-dimensionality that’s just astonishing. That’s true even when compared with high-res carriers such as SACD; indeed, earlier 2L releases included a Super Audio disc as well as a BD-A, so comparisons are quick and easy. That said listeners need to recalibrate their antennae as it were, for the extreme clarity of a BD-A will come as a rude shock after the relative warmth of an SACD.
 
By offering so many options 2L are embracing the widest possible market; that sets them apart from the purveyors of more basic BD-As. In a truly multimedia environment – which even encompasses vinyl – that’s the only way to go; anyone who’s even vaguely aware of audio advances such as high-quality streaming, multi-channel downloads and DSD-capable DACs, will surely agree. However, that’s only part of the audio equation; what listeners want is a marriage of technology and good music-making, and that isn’t always a given.
 
I am also slightly concerned that those of us who listen in stereo - and we are still in the majority - could be marginalised as the emphasis switches to multi-channel. Indeed, I’ve just reviewed an SACD of music for brass and organ that confirms my worst fears; in surround the disc is considered a knock-out, but in stereo it’s very disappointing. Given that Lindberg and other leading proponents of BD-A see home cinema set-ups as a gateway to high-res audio it is a source of some comfort that stereo is still a key part of the package.
 
It’s all about maximum flexibility, and that’s why 2L’s BD-As are such a good buy; I can make use of the disc and the 24/96 flacs, and if I choose to upgrade my DAC I will be able to play the 24/192 flacs as well. I must confess, though, that I can’t work up much enthusiasm for the latter, as any sonic improvements over 24/96 are so small as to be negligible. In time I imagine 2L and their partners will start to offer multi-channel downloads on their BD-As as well, extending the listener’s choice even further.
 
Enough of the tech chat, what about the music? Trondheim Solistene are a fine Norwegian ensemble whose recordings for BIS and 2L have garnered much praise in the past. The repertoire on Souvenir isn’t particularly adventurous, but at least it’s more mainstream than some of 2L’s other obscure releases. Seconds into Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings it’s clear that the fidelity and impact of this recording is something special. The ‘hear-through’ quality of the sound – individual instruments are easily discerned, their timbres well preserved – may be too forensic for some, but as I’ve suggested before it’s all about retuning one’s ears.
 
Rarely has the physical presence of musicians been so keenly felt, and that goes for both the PCM stereo mix and the 24/96 flacs. It’s not just about timbres, as rhythms and dynamics are subtle and sophisticated too; just listen to the urgent, full-toned pizzicati, especially in the Finale (Tema Russo) and relish those lovely singing lines. This is also a gorgeous performance, full of passion and bite, and it leaves one energised and elated. The youthful Nielsen Suite is even lovelier, and the trembling strings of the Prelude are incisive but not over-bright; as for the lower strings the dark resonance of these instruments is also superbly caught.
 
There’s a pleasing balance here between the technology and the music; it would be all too easy to aim for a ‘hi-fi spectacular’, but that’s not the way 2L operate; the music comes first, so that even as one delights in the open and effortless sound of the Intermezzo one also marvels at the dancing delicacy of this early opus. In the vigorous Finale the basses’ firm, well-rounded contributions give the music such stability and shape. Initially I felt the upper strings were a tad fierce, but one only has to hear this music live to realise that’s exactly how they sound when played with such unanimity and strength.
 
The rest of this programme – it’s divided into two parts – is just as satisfying. The Souvenir de Florence is big and bold, and the recording’s fine detail makes the inner voices of the Allegro con spirito all the lovelier. It’s such an eventful and involving performance, and it’s all recorded at a decent level; indeed, I had to reduce my usual volume setting by some 5-6dB, and even then every fibre and strand of the music is clean and clear. The ardent mass and surge of the Nielsen piece is particularly well served by this forthright recording.
 
Souvenir is an unqualified success, and at no time did I feel the stereo mix was compromised or downgraded. Sadly, I’m less happy with Remote Galaxy, recorded in the Watford Colosseum. My heart sank when I read the liner-notes, whose faux profundities do little or nothing to illuminate the music. The Norwegian composer Flint Juventino Beppe – previously known as Fred Jonny Berg – is new to me, and the evocative work titles promise far more than they actually deliver. The viola da gamba in the title piece is interesting, if unremarkable, but I responded much more positively to Mark van de Wiel’s characterful clarinet playing in Distant Words.
 
Musically this is threadbare stuff, although Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia make the most of what they’re given. As for the Flute Concerto No. 2 it’s slight but pleasing; the solo part is well taken by Emily Beynon. The sound is slightly less accomplished than I would expect from this talented team, although the usual virtues – immediacy and engagement – are pretty much intact. Not the kind of programme that appeals to me, but I suspect it may beckon to those who want something lighter and less demanding than the core repertoire usually provides. The disc is supplied in an SACD-style super jewel case rather than the usual Blu-ray box, which is a little confusing.
 
One hit, one miss; first-class presentation though.
 
Dan Morgan
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