Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2L Recordings' Magnificat on Blu-ray Audio and CD/SACD Hybrid

"Do you have any Christmas music?"

We had a lot of visitors to our home over the last couple of weeks. That can be a challenge for me since I don't really celebrate the holidays anymore. Nevertheless the old box of Christmas decorations did get pulled out of the garage rafters, and the next thing I know I had guests checking out my reference audio system and asking me if I had something, well, suitable to play for the occasion. It's not that I don't have Christmas music in my collection--I do, but it's all New Age-y holiday fare from a passing phase in the early '90s. (Hint: a particular woman was involved with those purchasing decisions, and I wish she had taken those CDs with her.) Suffice it to say that the only holiday music I'd even remotely consider is the Vince Guaraldi Trio doing A Charlie Brown Christmas. Chad Kassem at Acoustic Sounds just did a new remaster of that, but I think the deadline for buying that in a timely manner has passed.

Fortunately, one of the new disc sets I'd received from Morten Lindberg of 2L Recordings fit the seasonal bill. Magnificat, a new album of sacred pieces for small orchestra, pipe organ, piano and choir, satisfied the more cerebral and esoteric among us and was the perfect antidote to all of those traditional songs that plague us every December (and November and October). The title piece, composed by a young Norwegian named Kim Andre Arnesen (who was born in 1980, something seemingly odd and rare in the world of classical music composers), specifically addresses the story of "the angel Gabriel visiting Mary with the message that she will be the mother of God's son." The other pieces, Aaron Jay Kernis' "Musica Celestis" and Ola Gjeilo's "Tundra" and "Song of the Universal," are equally evocative of the holiday spirit.

This is one release from 2L that will immediately engage you whether or not you're a fan of contemporary classical music. From the opening notes of "Magnificat" you will be seduced and comforted by the sheer beauty of it all, such gorgeous melodies and ideas framed in that usual warm sound that can only come from Morten Lindberg, some recording equipment and the usual Norwegian church. This music becomes something much more substantial than those hoary old carols--it's music that finds a direct connection to your soul whether you lead a religious life or a largely secular one such as me.

Beyond Morten and the composers, there's so much talent worth addressing on this recording--Ola Gjeilo's stunning and full piano work, powerful yet lovely solos from sopranos Lise Granden Berg and Cecilie Ertzaas Overrein and even masterful pipe organ contributions from Magne H. Draagen. You also get none other than TrondheimSolistene performing the role of the smallish string orchestra--their landmark Souvenir, after all, pretty much put 2L on the map when it comes to the world's most beautiful and realistic recordings.

In a lot of ways, this is my favorite 2L release so far and not just because it's so immediate and accessible. I've always been a huge fan of so-called sacred music, but not because it inspires my "faith," whatever that is. Since I was in college I felt a special bond with those classical composers who felt the hand of God on their shoulders as they put pen to paper--in particular Arvo Part's sacred music makes me feel as if I've discovered hidden keys to the universe. Magnificat elicits those same quiet and peaceful epiphanies, which is far more rewarding than those tired old Christmas songs.

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