Thursday, January 29, 2015

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

It seems like every January I apologize for not blogging enough. I won't do it this year. The truth is, CES keeps getting bigger and bigger for us, and every year I get a little older. That means additional time is required for recovery. It's during this quiet time of the year, however, in the middle of my second Colorado winter, that I really seem to appreciate what Morten Lindberg's been doing for not only the Norwegian recording industry but the entire world. Going beyond all those technical innovations and novel approaches in the studio, Morten chooses music that seems to highlight wintry emotions. These selections aren't stereotypically Scandinavian, all ice and snow and cold, but sturdy and confident and a bit pragmatic--in a good way. It's an underlying attitude of a people who take nothing for granted.

What's utterly amazing is that this subterranean thread of stoicism appears in such a wide range of musical styles. On the latest 2L Recordings release, for example, Morten enlists (pun intended) the help of the Staff Band of the Norwegian Armed Forces, something he's done once or twice before. In each case, this wind orchestra defies expectations for fighting the temptation to be constantly dynamic and startling. The sounds of the band are remarkable in the way they coalesce and expand with the flow of the music; it's more about passion and less about punctuation. That also seems to reinforce the idea that the music of Norway is more about substance than about thrills.

Christianialiv is a simple, unadorned celebration of the "Golden Age of Norwegian Music," a time during the late 19th and early 20th century when the country's prosperity opened the door to a new period of unlimited artistic expression. The fascinating part of the story is that earlier incarnations of the Staff Band of the Norwegian Armed Forces actually played an important role in popularizing these pieces after the were first written. These specific pieces, by Norwegian composers such as Johan Svendsen, Adolf Hansen, Ole Olsen and Alfred Evensen, were actually championed by the SBNAF back in the day--and that's the reason why they are included here.

As with 2L's first two recordings with the SBNAF, the magic element here is to surprise the listener by showing uncommon depth and emotion in the context of a wind orchestra/marching band. There's still that urge to pick out the individual musicians and follow them throughout the piece--the soundstage and imaging, of course, are that spectacular--but the true beauty of this album is found in the way these instruments join together in the air and create a new harmonic tone all their own. There are points in time, especially in the opening Symfoni Nr. 2 by Svendsen and the final two Evensen dances, where it seems preternatural that the band's sounds are created so naturally.

So if your opinion of wind orchestras and marching bands are somewhat colored by those boom/smash/bang audiophile titles from a couple of decades ago, Christianialiv might change your perceptions. Intriguing, fluid and almost cosmic in its reach, this is one of the best-sounding releases yet from 2L.

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