Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is an audio-only (i.e., with no video content) Blu-ray disc playable only on Blu-ray players.
TCHAIKOVSKY Souvenir de Florence. Serenade for Strings. NIELSEN At the Bier of a Young Artist. Suite for Strings • Trondheim Soloists • 2L 2L-090-PABD (Blu-ray: 85:16)
Here’s yet another of 2L’s superlative-sounding Blu-ray audio releases, although there’s a slight change in medium from the ones I’ve reviewed before. Those included both SACD and Blu-ray discs. This one has a Blu-ray only, but there’s compensation. Besides high-resolution LPCM stereo, 5.1 HD MA 24/192kHz, and 7.1 HD MA 24/96kHZ (not to mention MP3 and FLAC download opportunities), they’ve included, for the Souvenir de Florence and At the Bier, a 9.1 Auro-3D option that adds, to the 5.1 surround mix, an additional four-channel height option. I didn’t have a chance to try out the 9.1 tracks, and I didn’t try the downloads. (Nor have I heard the audiophile vinyl version, part of which was reviewed by Raymond Tuttle in Fanfare 36:3.) But the three “standard” Blu-ray options offer exemplary engineering. Granted, since the producers place you at the center of a circular orchestra, the two-channel version is relatively unexciting—but only by comparison to the surround versions. As I hear it, the 7.1 version provides the most gripping audio experience, with markedly greater fullness and sense of space; certainly, switching between the 7.1. and 5.1 tracks gives a strong argument in favor of the two extra channels. But if you buy this disc, I suspect you’ll spend a lot of time testing various options.
None of this would matter much if the performances were mediocre; fortunately, to my ears, they’re all first-rate (although you should also check out Tuttle’s less positive response). The Trondheim group plays with prismatically changing tone, artful dynamic molding, and superior balances (aided, of course, by the spatial setup), which bring out the music’s contrapuntal interest. Phrasing is consistently imaginative, and while it’s possible to give the Tchaikovsky works greater toughness (the Andante non troppo opening of the Serenade could surely be grander and more austere), the Trondheim’s control of accents and their rhythmic unanimity provide plenty of energy and lift (note the stunning clarity of the sixteenth-note figures in the finale of Souvenir de Florence or the swing once we get to the Allegro moderato of the first movement of the Serenade or the infectious lilt of the Serenade’s waltz). There’s plenty of sheer drama in the finale of the Tchaikovsky Serenade, too. Like Tuttle, I normally prefer to hear Souvenir as a sextet (as Tchaikovsky intended) rather than in a plumped-up version for string orchestra. But this account, played by 20 performers with all the dexterity of a much smaller ensemble, now goes to the top of my list; and the thoughtful reading of the Serenade is nearly as good. As for the Nielsen: the understated eloquence of At the Bier is perfectly gauged—and while the Suite is the work of an immature composer who was yet to find his voice, it gets a performance that draws the most from it (the mystery of the first movement is especially compelling here). In sum, a release that demonstrates the utmost care in both engineering and performance—and that could serve as a model for other companies to emulate. Strongly recommended.
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