Audiophile Audition -
This lovely album from 2L features music from Norway and the British Isles, all of it pretty contemporary and composed within the last 70 years. The composers included – Benjamin Britten, Sally Beamish, Arne Nordheim, Olav Anton Thommessen and Henning Kraggerud – all find inspiration in earlier musical styles and traditions. These composers are very diverse, and the pieces played here by viola soloist Soon-Mi Chung are of contrasting moods.
The first work, Under the Wing of the Rock, by Sally Beamish, takes its title from a 19th Century Gaelic poem. The piece is lyrical and superbly recorded.
The next track is Voyage Doulouqreux by Henning Kraggerud that was written for two violas in 1997. It starts off melancholy, but soon becomes, in the composer’s words, joyful and almost manic. It’s an interesting piece, well-played and with much to recommend repeated listens.
Kraggerud returns with Til Sara, for violin and viola, composed in 1996. Here again, the music is expressive and filled with emotion. Another Norwegian composer gives us Brudd. It’s written by Arne Nordheim. Brudd roughly translated means ‘break’ or ‘fracture’. It’s the most dissonant track on the disc, but it’s a fascinating listen.
Portrait and Chaconne by Olav Thommessen is a musical portrait of violinist Soon-Mi, who performs the work. Finally, we hear Britten’s Lachrymae, a work from 1950, originally written for viola and piano. Here it’s rendered by solo violin and viola, and a small chamber orchestra.
As usual, 2L mixes fine performances with reference quality sound. This album was recorded at the Jar Church in Norway, and the sound is, as expected, superb. The rear channels are subtle, and the sound of the strings is as realistic as the electronic medium can provide. The low end is solid, and the placement of instruments is very realistic and not over-highlighted.
While much of the music is unfamiliar, it’s an album that I will return to frequently. The performances are first rate, both from the soloists and the ensemble, and the recording, as mentioned, is reference quality for its wonderfully realistic string sounds. Highly recommended!
The Vinyl Anachronist
What makes 2L Recordings' album, Under the Wing of the Rock, so special? All I can do is hit play and allow you to hear deep, deep into the sound of a small string orchestra and, in particular, know what it would sound like if a viola was played right in front of you by a real live human being.
The first few minutes of Under the Wing of the Rock should make you stop talking. It should make you sit down in a chair in front of the speakers. It should make you forget about all those female singers that somehow have replaced the sound of a classical ensemble as THE way to judge an audio system's strengths.
This collection of British and Norwegian music for an assortment of small string ensembles, all composed within the last 70 years, immediately captures the listener's attention on several fronts. First, there's that unmistakable feeling that this is what it sounded like in that old Norwegian church when 2L's Morten Lindberg was scrambling around trying to capture the essence of this intriguing music. Second, the variety and scope and the dynamic power of these sounds will surprise you -- this is a far cry from your parents' massed string Shaded Dogs. Finally, and I may not have delivered this impression thoroughly yet, this music sounds absolutely gorgeous and melodic and unusually keen when it comes to evoking specific imagery and letting you trail off into vivid daydreams.
The middle four pieces, composed by contemporary Norwegian composers Henning Kraggerud, Arne Nordheim and Olav Anton Thommessen, all possess that angular modern sensibility you find in classical music composed since 1950, the date of the oldest piece in this album. Dissonance in classical pieces can be a real litmus test for how deeply you're interested in how music has evolved historically.
But the pieces that mark the beginning and end of this album, Sally Beamish' title piece and Benjamin Britten's Lachrymae are beautiful bookends, thrilling pieces that really dig deep into the way musicians interact with both their instruments and the other performers that share the stage. (That is especially true of featured violist Soon-Mi Chung, whose exquisite playing clearly defines the tonal differences between violas and violins.)