Monday, February 10, 2014
Torbjorn Dyrud's Out of Darkness on 2L Recordings' Blu-ray Audio and CD/SACD Hybrid
I didn't know what to think about the latest 2L Recordings release, Torbjorn Dyrud's Out of Darkness, when I first listened to it. Dyrud's take on the passion and the resurrection of Jesus is odd and haunting with its English readings, spare and mostly percussive arrangements and its penchant for the more macabre aspects of this two-thousand year old story. Add a liberal dose of heavy breathing--Christ dragging the cross up the hill--along with the sound of whipping and flogging, and you have the antithesis of a soothing evening at home while listening to your hi-fi.
On the other hand, this recording is from 2L. That generally means that in addition to novel thematic elements, Morten Lindberg is going to challenge you along the way with the sheer beauty of the performance. The strength of this recording is in the judicious use of sound effects as punctuation for the story--the patient slap of the bass drum, ethereal whistling from the choir and that disconcerting crack of the whip. Morten has really been spending a lot of time with new surround-sound technologies in the last few 2L recordings, and his strategy of this recording was to place the performers in as big of a space as possible--in this case the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim--to isolate them from reflections and room boundaries. This is certainly a change of pace from past 2L recordings where the venue, usually a Norwegian church that offers unusually warm and open acoustics, acts as one of the performers. The Nidaros Cathedral is evidently so big, and Morten's microphone placement so precise, that the room reflections aren't reinforced in the usual ways.
As I've learned from the wealth of 2L recordings I've reviewed, this amazing sound quality is often paired with challenging, unusual and atonal music in a manner that forces the listener to re-evaluate the relationship between performer and musical instruments. Here the most stunning work is done with the human voice, as the Nidaros Cathedral Choir (as conducted by Vivianne Sydnes) steps far outside of where moat church choirs operate. Along with the aforementioned heavy breathing, there's also plenty of whispering (the crowd around Jesus) and an utterly strange drone whistle that bends in space as if it's a reluctant, plaintive siren. This re-imagines the church choir in the same way Kevin Volans' White Man Sleeps re-imagines the string quartet. Could you imagine what would happen if this had been performed back in the Baroque Era? Madness! Blasphemy!
This versatility in the choir also adds so many textures to the music that you might think there are more musicians on the stage than there are. For the record, there's only two trumpeters (Geir Morten Oien and Erlend Aagaard Nilsen) and one very busy percussionist (Lars Sitter) and that's it. The rest of the sound you hear is from the Nidaros Cathedral Choir, with Sarah Head performing the English readings. But even with all the physical space Out of Darkness defines, it's still unusually intimate. It pulls you in, and then it places you at the edge of the abyss.
Finally, I am happy that 2L has once again included both the CD/SACD hybrid disc with the Blu-ray Audio disc--even though Out of Darkness comes in a standard double CD jewel case instead of the larger blue clamshell cases as with other Blu-ray audio releases. In this case, however, the Blu-ray disc does a slightly better job of recreating the quite yet very spacious Nidaros Cathedral.