Saturday, January 26, 2013
2L Recordings' La Voie Triomphale on Blu-ray Audio and CD/SACD
If someone hands you an audiophile-quality recording of a military band, you usually know what you're in for--big cymbal crashes, blaring brass instruments, pomp, circumstance, ONE-two ONE-two ONE-two. We had a few of these discs floating around in the '80s, and they were primarily used to demonstrate the dynamics of an audio system. These weren't late night discs meant to be enjoyed with a glass of brandy with your favorite canine at your feet, unless of course you like the idea of your startled dog suddenly jumping up and barking at the empty space between your speakers.
When Morten Lindberg of 2L Recordings first announced that he was releasing La Voie Triomphale from the Staff Band of the Norwegian Armed Forces, I figured it was going to be one of those discs. I was intrigued that he and conductor Ole Kristian Ruud wanted to focus on French composers, specifically ones that contributed to the "evolvement of the wind orchestra" such as Berlioz, Saint-Saens, Dukas, Milhaud, Henri Tomasi and Eugene Rozza. French composers, at least in my mind, are known more for their lyricism than their bombast. So while you do get healthy amounts of percussive flourishes, heart-stopping crescendos and occasional glimpses of fevered battle cries in La Voie Triomphe, you also get unexpected doses of real emotion and beauty, tempered with a melancholia, regret and even delicacy not usually associated with soldiers.
As is typical for 2L, this recording was captured in Jar Church in Norway--not on an open airfield next to a grandstand filled with ecstatic patriots. This environment, along with Morten's unconventional microphone arrangements, adds another layer to the music, a richer texture that lessens the bright leading edges and ultimately lets you follow the musical threads of individual musicians. As I've said before, each 2L recording I've reviewed excels in a singular way, and the calling card of La Voie Triomphale is its ability to carefully delineate each musician within a particularly powerful and sometimes chaotic context. You can easily latch onto a single flute and escort it through entire movement despite the presence of louder and more demonstrative instruments. Perhaps that's because the soundstage in this recording, accentuated by that Norwegian church, is so utterly gigantic. You can almost picture the precise geometrical spacing of the members of the band.
My enjoyment of this disc, by the way, was enhanced by two new additions to my sound system. First, I've been breaking in a pair of My Audio Design Duke Royal Limited loudspeakers for the last few weeks. First I had to get them ready for CES, and I left them in afterward because I'm an audiophile first and foremost, and for God's sake I have a $48,000 pair of loudspeakers at my disposal. The Dukes are surprisingly compact for a megaspeaker, but they are full-range speakers in every way and produce the widest frequency response of any speaker I've ever used in my own home. Not only does the soundstage go from side to side and front to back, it goes up and down, down, well under my feet deep into the Texas flagstone. If I've been missing any information from these wonderful 2L recordings in the past, the Dukes can certainly retrieve those details in all their glory.
Secondly, and this is a more minor and futzy point, I've added another equipment rack to my system from Splintr Designs, and this allows me a little more flexibility when jumping between formats. That means I can set my $4200 CD player and my $68 Blu-ray player next to each other and perform quick comparisons (again, you get both the Blu-ray audio disc and the CD/SACD with La Voie Triomphale). It allows me to extract a bit more performance from the lowly Samsung since the shelves of the new rack are more effectively decoupled from the rest of the room; I even placed some old Black Diamond Racing Cones underneath the flimsy casework for extra vibration control. As a result, the Blu-ray disc sounds even nicer than usual, with a smoother and easier presentation than the occasionally hyper-detailed hybrid CD/SACD. The Samsung, as usual, is probably responsible for neglecting some of those details, but it does so in a relatively pleasing and inoffensive manner.
After several months, I've finally gotten to the bottom of my 2L pile. That certainly doesn't mean Morten Lindberg is slowing down--on his website I see announcements for new releases on an almost weekly basis. There's an upcoming recoding of a harmonica and organ duo, reminiscent of that old audiophile chestnut Antiphone Blues. There's some Beethoven string quartets coming in the near future, along with some new folk songs from TrondheimSolistene, the group responsible for the Grammy-nominated Souvenir discs I've raved about right here. I'm looking forward to exploring each one.