Monday, March 17, 2014

2L Recordings' Symphonies of Wind Instruments on CD, SACD and Blu-ray Audio

On the surface, this new 2L Recording of the Royal Norwegian Navy Band is a primer for dynamics. You know, I'm talking about one of those recordings audiophiles use to demonstrate how exciting their systems are. Everything is dramatic, percussive and in your face, and if your heart is leaping then it must be a great recording. Reference Recordings and Sheffield both had similar releases by wind orchestras back in the '80s and they both became audiophile standards--I think I still hear recordings played at trade shows. Heck, this release is even called Symphonies of Wind Instruments--direct, plain and to the point.

As I'm settling in and judging this record by the first selection, Paul Hindemith's Konzertmusik, I'm thinking I have a handle on everything it's doing. This is a giant, spacious 3-D recording where large groups of instruments interact on an even larger stage, and everything is so crystal clear and lifelike. And again, on the surface, the Hindemith piece is played with the energy and exuberance of a skilled military band--but I couldn't imagine what parade what fit with this kind of music, which is the first hint that this isn't just another demo disc. What a whimsically desolate event that parade would be, I think.

Once the nearly twenty-minute Hindemith piece ended, it hit, one of those unfamiliar musical pieces from a favorite composer that just reminds you that there's so much beautiful music out there that I, or anyone else, will never hear. This is from a guy, of course, who's lucky enough to spend large chunks of the day listening to music, and I'm melancholy about this fact. That, of course, is the feeling this music drew out: Arnold Schoenberg's Theme and Variations. I love Schoenberg for the same reason I love Scott Walker--they were both on the cusp of something, and then they turned the corner and found something else. It's fascinating to gather up a wide selection of Schoenberg recordings and just randomly listen to snippets and guess where the composer's head was along that big progressive arc of discovery.

Theme and Variations stands out as an oasis of delicacy in this album, and for complicated reasons. It's no less bracing than the other selections on the album, which also include an additional piece by Hindemith, Symphony in B flat and two relatively brief pieces by Igor Stravinsky and Rolf Wallin. It's just that there are emotions and images in this music that seem to gain an additional level of meaning when played by a disciplined military band. It's not that the two pieces don't fit together--it's just that you're surprised when you see the final result. I would imagine that credit goes to conductor Ingar Bergby, and of course 2L's Morten Lindberg, for creating this musical challenge.

Needless to say, this is a 2L recording so it sounds completely wonderful. If you're looking for the "air around the instruments," you won't find a better example. Just be prepared that there's a point where this unusual recording stops being what you think it's being, and then becomes something else. And that's exciting.

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