Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Complete Piano Works of Thomas D. A. Tellefsen on 2L Recordings Blu-Ray Audio

Remember when CDs were in their infancy, and one of the great selling points of this new format was the amount of music you could cram onto one disc? A story circulated back then that you could put 69 or 70 minutes' worth of music on a single compact disc, and that particular number was chosen so that Beethoven's Symphony No.9 wouldn't require a 2-CD set. To this day I still hear music lovers claim they don't like LPs because they don't want to get up every twenty minutes to flip the record. Lazy-ass mofo jokes aside, there is an incredible appeal to music formats that play and play and play. That's why some of us still listen to local FM radio stations while working on the Times crossword puzzle on quiet, rainy Sunday afternoons. That explains why we are so intrigued with expansive iTunes playlists and giant music servers with terrabyte hard drives. It explains the whole silly encore ritual at the end of every live musical performance--if we just stand here and clap long enough, maybe they'll come back out and play five or six more songs! We just don't want the music to stop. It's a bummer when it does.

Well, I have some news for you. I was listening to yet another Blu-ray Audio disc from 2L Recordings of Norway, Thomas D. A. Tellefsen--Complete Piano Works, and after a while I noticed something strange. The music just kept playing, hour after hour. At first I thought I had hit the repeat button, even though each solo piano piece sounded new and fresh. I picked up the Blu-ray case and there it was, printed right on the back: "3 hours and 18 minutes of music on 1 disc." That's a lot of music. And, in essence, it's another important reason why Blu-ray audio should be a competitive music format in 2012.

It certainly makes sense to use a digital format originally designed for movies as a convenient, compact way to store huge chunks of music. Let's face it--box sets are for wacky, obsessive collectors. For most of us, space is at a premium. We don't want our music collections taking over an entire room, much less our entire house. That's why so many of us are ripping our entire CD collections to our computers and selling all of our discs on eBay. We want our listening rooms to look like the ads in high-end audio magazines...a pair of speakers, an amp, a MacBook and a chair from IKEA. That's it. Blu-ray audio is a magnificent compromise for people who still love physical formats--like me--yet are starting to wonder how they're going to contain their ever-expanding music collections.

None of this would matter, however, if the content and the sound quality weren't up to par. This is 2L, after all, and Morten Lindberg is certainly on the cutting edge when it comes to exploring the sonic potential of the hi-rez formats--including vinyl (heh heh). Lindberg recorded Norwegian pianist Jorgen Larsen at the Ringve Museum in Trondheim, Norway, and as usual he captures the essence of the space with unusual precision. So far, most of the 2L recordings I have heard were recorded in Norwegian churches, and I immediately noticed that the Tellefsen recordings sounded closer, more intimate and within in a slightly smaller space. The cavernous qualities of the churches were replaced with something tighter and more streamlined, although the space still provides a wealth of air and transient decay.

I've yet to address either the pianist or the composer; I'm reluctant to admit that I'm a stranger to both. Tellefsen was a mid-19th century composer who was a friend and contemporary of Chopin, and you can hear some of Chopin's rolling flourishes throughout the music, albeit with a much firmer hand. I also find Tellefsen to be more upbeat than many Scandinavian composers I admire, although Colleen did pop in once or twice to comment on the "sad music" coming from the listening room. Jorgen Larsen, who has deep connections to the Trondheim music scene in Norway, is famous for premiering important new works from Norwegian composers. He is a confident, relaxed pianist whose interpretations are imbued with composure and knowledge.

The sound quality, of course, is superb. Even with the new modest Samsung Blu-ray player in the role of the Weak Link in the Chain, I am once again astonished by the sweetness of the treble and the depth of the decay. I'm also starting to get a strong feel for the lower bass capabilities of Blu-ray audio, even with a solo piano recording such as this. Blu-ray seems to capture the low frequency information that accompanies the sheer movement of air within a space almost as well as analog recordings, and much better than redbook CD. How much of this is due to the format, and how much is due to Morton Lindberg's recording prowess? I'll be able to answer that with more certainty now that I have two of 2L's titles--Souvenir and Quiet Winter Night--on both LP and Blu-ray Audio. I can't wait to sit down and perform some real comparisons, although a couple of people have informed me that the two formats sound surprisingly similar. We shall see.

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