Thursday, March 29, 2012

TrondheimSolistene - Souvenir Part I on LP

Mixed voice orchestrations in classical music, where the sections of performers are deconstructed so that no two common instruments are placed next to each other, offer a unique and entertaining new perspective on familiar pieces of music. With this wonderful new recording from the TrondheimSolistene string ensemble from Norway, both Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings in C and Nielsen's Suite for String Orchestra are presented in an entirely new light that makes them sound fresh and adventurous and very, very different. Using very hi-rez files for the direct metal 180g LP master--how does 352.8kHz and 24 bits grab you?--Norwegian record label 2L has presented one of the most fascinating and noteworthy releases of 2012, as well as the last decade. Classical recording techniques in the 21st century are very much alive, and Morten Lindberg--the producer, recording engineer, editor, mixer and mastering engineer of this recording--is very much at the forefront.

There's so much to talk about here in terms of the overall result. First, the mixed voice format delivers a sound that is so balanced and even throughout the soundstage that it sounds a lot like a stellar mono recording--you know, one of those records where you can't quite believe it's mono because everything sounds so fluid and realistic and all of the timbres are so perfectly realized. Soundstage width is the first tip-off that this is a stereo recording, and where the comparisons to mono come to an abrupt halt. While the TrondheimSolistene--which translates to "Trondheim Soloists"--is considered a small string orchestra, its overall sound is big and impressively dynamic.

Outside of these distinctions, however, it's amazing how utterly even the delivery of musical portions are and how they seem to come from the entire stage at once. You won't hear individual sections of instruments "dance" all over the stage, which I guess would mute counterpoint with specific types of music. The Tchaikovsky and Nielsen pieces are ideally suited to this format, however, with powerful massed sounds driving toward the listener with more force than ever before. For instance, I am very familiar with the Tchaikovsky piece, yet for some reason I was full minute or two into the performance before I completely recognized it. Even more intriguing is the gradual realization that you aren't listening to variations of a familiar piece of music but the same exact piece of music played from an entirely different vantage point.

Aside from the mixed voice aspect of Souvenir Part I, there's the extremely high quality of the recording. When I first heard hi-rez recordings that cracked the 300kHz barrier (or even the 192kHz barrier), my first observation was how high and extended the treble sounded. Okay, that sounds obvious, but what was even more impressive was the pure and unadulterated sweetness of those high frequencies. As resolution capabilities extend into the stratosphere, I think many audiophiles--especially those who favor tubed amplification that softens the frequency extremes--expect and fear harshness, stridency and brightness. In my experience, this is usually not the case.

That said, I had to carefully extend my review period for Souvenir Part I because I was concurrently breaking in a tube amplifier--the Unison Research Simply Italy. When I first listened to this LP on the not-fully-broken-in amp, my ears were pinned back during the full frontal assault of each crescendo. Forget the Loudness Wars; the dynamic swings in this recording are so extreme that you may have to calibrate your volume settings well in advance. If old RCA Shaded Dogs are your reference for outstanding classical recordings--and they are for me--then the 2L sound will definitely shake you out of your warm, fuzzy complacency. Once the Simply Italy broke in, the massed strings were textured and woody and natural, but the crescendos were still bracing--I suspect too much so for a handful of audiophiles.

If you love a detailed, informative musical delivery, however, you'll probably adore this LP. Not to lump all of Scandinavia into one frozen pile, but some of my favorite classical recordings come from the Opus3 and BIS labels, and there's a common sonic signature I detect in these northern recordings that vividly convey feelings of loss, isolation and even despair...all of the most winterlike of our emotions. That's not to generalize Scandinavians as dour, depressed souls trudging over snow banks, but it's very easy for me to imagine lonely winter landscapes while listening to Scandinavian composers, conductors and orchestras. While Souvenir Part I is the epitome of liveliness, there is an undercurrent of austerity and simplicity that adds rather than subtracts and makes this an important release, one that classical music lovers and audiophiles should discover and embrace.

For more information on this recording, including how to order it, check out the 2L website.

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