I'll be up front with you, I am not the world's finest expert on all things classical music and there are many other reviewers out there with more technical knowledge about a performer's approach and such. With classical music especially, it is often hard to determine which performances are deemed "good" because you have to be somewhat intimate with the work being played; you need to have heard many versions to make a judgement. Serious classical writers will be familiar with the actual score and can tell if a conductor is swaying from the intent of the composer's original work.
I'm not that reviewer.
While I have my little bucket list of favorite composers (leaning largely to Russian composers like Stravinsky and Rimsky-Korsakov), I usually go with my gut instincts when judging whether I like something or not based on "feel." I have learned to listen for a certain sense of passion the players put into the performance (both in classical and jazz musics). I also listen closely to how the recording itself was made. Every once in a while, you get those amazing moments where the performance and the recording are of such a tremendously high caliber that the music just rocks your world.
Trondheim Solistene's Divertimenti is one of those releases, a recording I only just now discovered (full disclosure: it had been sent to our publisher who forwarded it to me last year; it takes a while to get to these things!)
From the opening notes of this quite stunning recording on the 2L label, I was captivated by a palpable passion and power -- the "feel"! -- as this bold chamber orchestra tackled works by Benjamin Britten and Bela Bartok, as well as a lovely Concerto for String Orchestra by Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz (who I'd never heard of before). What I'm getting at is these musicians are playing as if inside the music, coaxing more than just notes from the pages. Its kind of like that sensation most people got in the 60s when The Beatles had the audacity to issue as a single the song "Eleanor Rigby," done only with a string quartet and the Beatles voices. Producer George Martin had not only scored that work beautifully, but he pulled a quite stunning performance out of the session musicians that elevated the track to another stratosphere. It reached the #1 spot in Britain and #11 in America in 1966.
Its all about feel.
These players remind me at times of England's wonderful Brodsky Quartet, whose music I was introduced to in the 1990s via Elvis Costello's under-appreciated Juliet Letters collection.
This TrondheimSolistene recording was made in a wonderful manner specifically for fans of surround sound, using an array of microphones that are placed in the center of the orchestra who are in turn physically set up around it.
(oh, how I would love to hear Costello's Juliet Letters re-recorded like this with some diverse operatic-oriented vocalists!).
In this case the recording appears to have been made in an old church somewhere in Norway. So you are very much inside the orchestra and a lovely old beautifully ambient room. The sonic impact is magnificent.
Sure, the purists out there will say that this is not a good representation of how an orchestra performs and sounds in concert. I argue back: this is not a live concert. It is a studio session!
Even in the liner notes the producer details how they spend four to six days of recording for a 60 minute work, with special attention to capturing the right "mood and dimensions" for the work -- I interpret this as the "feel" I mentioned earlier.
That feel comes across loud and clear on this wonderful two disc set which includes a Blu-ray disc presenting 192 kHz/24-bit 5.1 surround mixes in DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby TrueHD and Linear PCM (the latter also in stereo). The SACD version contains stereo DSD and 5.1 streams at 2.8224 Mbit/s/ch as well as a traditional 16-bit CD layer.
While I have not played every version, I can attest that the DTS-HD Master Audio and Linear PCM versions sound awesome and the SACD sounds great in both stereo and surround.
This is a demo-worthy reference type recording, frankly. But it is also a wonderful reading of the music (at least to my ear it is!).
I had not heard of this group, TrondheimSolistene, before receiving this disc but obviously they have something significant going on here that is resonating with me.
From their bio up on Amazon we learn its resonating with others too:
"As a result of many concerts throughout Europe as well as concerts tours to the USA, Asia and Brazil, the Trondheim Soloists has grown to be an ensemble of international renown. Thanks to their innovative profile the Trondheim Soloists have received much critical acclaim and attracted attention with their combination of high standards, youthful vigour and lively enthusiasm for the music. The orchestra's CD/Blu-ray discs "Divertimenti" and "In Folk Style" are nominated for five GRAMMY Awards."
Well, that nails it for me. I'm going to seek out a copy of their "In Folk Style" album (and others that may exist). If they contain anything even remotely like the performances and fidelity of this disc, I think I can say already that I'm going to probably dig it.
Maybe you will too...
You can explore the label's many riches at www.2L.no
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.