|Review by steviev March 22, 2014 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
|Aesthetically this is high-quality middlebrow movie music, reminiscent of Tim Burton's go-to composer Danny Elfman. It's essentially tonal, shot through with a degree of chromaticism that wouldn't offend Richard Strauss.
2L has recorded another disc of this composer's music, back when he called himself Fred Jonny Berg, Flute Mystery - Beynon, Ashkenazy, which also features Emily Beynon on flute and the same orchestra and conductor, recorded in the same hall. That disc, like this one, was recorded in 2L's typical aggressive surround style, placing the listener literally in the center of the orchestra. Somehow, maybe via more distant mike placement, the current disc has a perspective more like normal discrete multichannel recordings so that instruments nominally placed behind the listener still sound like they're coming from the front. 2L as usual provides seating diagrams for each piece, and each piece has a different seating arrangement, though this is less audible and obvious than 2L's previous FJB recording.
The title of the first piece "Remote Galaxy" is misleading. I fully expected otherwordly music, something along the lines of Langgaard's "Music of the Spheres" or Anders Brodsgaard's "Galaxy." Instead the music has a fairytale quality, confirmed by the composer's description in the booklet: "The Remote Galaxy is ruled by a queen named Amanda. She moves around incessantly in this mysterious universe, always protected by 'The Little, Strange Army'. Then, at a particular point in the composition, Queen Amanda takes her farewell and departs from the Remote Galaxy." Near the midpoint of the piece there is a short solo for glass harmonica that's a bit cosmic-spooky, but that's about it for any stereotypical "space" music. On its own terms it's an effective 18-minute tone poem, colorfully orchestrated, with a recurring concertante role for viola da gamba reminiscent of the solo viola in Strauss' Don Quixote. This is my favorite piece here.
Distant Words is 16 minutes of solo clarinet and strings. Lost in September and Tightrope walking beneath heaven are tone poems for full orchestra. All three sound like movie music a la Danny Elfman and really make no lasting impression on me.
FJB's second flute concerto is unusual. It's about 23 minutes long, and the flute is silent for about 10 of those 23 minutes. In fact it's scarcely heard at all in the third movement, which features an imposing organ part. The first and fourth movements are dominated by brass, with the soloist bobbing and weaving her way through a lush and hyperactive orchestration. The second movement is the most conventional, gives the greatest prominence to the flute, and is the most lightly scored. The work ends with the flute silent for the last minute or so, the brass blaring out huge fanfare chorales that sound a lot like the closing minutes of Shostakovich's Fourth. As the booklet acknowledges, this work is darker than FJB's first flute concerto. I much prefer his first flute concerto. This is the most abstract and serious piece on the programme, and also the least Elfmanesque.
As a pure-music listening experience divorced from extramusical inspiration, explicit or not, 2L's first disc of FJB's music is more successful. This disc too often left me feeling like I was listening to the soundtrack of a Tim Burton film, but the music itself is just not interesting or memorable enough to hold my attention sans images. Overall the music on FJB's previous disc is more laidback and pleasant, where the music here is more hyper-intense, more self-consciously virtuosic.
Philharmonia under Ashkenazy plays with total skill and conviction. The gamba sounds great -- chewy and velvety. The clarinet is competent, nothing special, not offensive. The flutist's low tones are just buttery and her highest notes are full and clear -- best soloist of the bunch.
This is one of 2L's best recordings. Very dynamic, clear yet warm and blended, ample reverb. Strings are silky-creamy, brass and percussion are piercing, rich, massive. Though nominally an aggressive in-the-round sort of recording, ambience leans more towards discrete multichannel. My receiver doesn't (yet) support Auro-3D 9.1, so I listen in 5.0.
Good news: this Blu-ray comes packaged in a CD-sized jewel box instead of those bulky DVD-style crates.
A caveat for anyone who might think of downloading this title: the last two movements of the flute concerto play continuously, attacca, so if your rig doesn't support gapless playback, beware.
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|Review by Audiophile.no March 24, 2014 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
|There are huge individual differences regarding how easy it is to write about records. Some are flown in after a few times listening, while other records it is almost tempting to skip. Not because they are uninteresting - on the contrary - it is often because they are very difficult to write about.
This review has had a slow start. For several reasons. The review record came into my possession in the middle of the process of moving from Bergen periphery to Sydneshaugen in Bergen City, with related chaos in the physical environment. Next came a prolonged period of frequent playback in stereo, simply because it took a long time to get unpacked and rigged up the whole multi-channel setup. And the stereo is no way to play a 2L disc, and least Remote Galaxy.
But the most important reason why this takes time long past it's technically possible, is that Remote Galaxy with music composed by Flint Juventino Beppe - or Fred Jonny Berg as he was named when he was born in 1973 - is a very time consuming record to penetrate. And getting deep into the music is a prerequisite to be able to write about it.
But even here we got a little lopsided, for absorption of music has happened gradually. We start anyway with the title composition,
- Remote Galaxy. I had planned to save it to the end, as an ultimate treat, but find it appropriate to start with it. Precisely because this is the work it is far easier to relate to.
I have got used to an exercise when I listen to unknown classical or contemporary music. And it is in the order of priority When? - Where? - Who? - What. If we try this exercise on Remote Galaxy, the pendulum swings like a yo-yo already on dating. It's easy to find weak link right back to Mahler here, as well as other sequences indicates a relatively recent dating. This applies to the work Remote Galaxy - written in 2010, but also for several other works on the release.
The work Remote Galaxy has an amazing dynamic. It opens a little cautious, yet with undertones that warns that something dramatatisk is in store. Viola da Gamba is an unusual instrument in modern compositions, but has a central position here. Stanzas in Pizzicato slows the speed temporarily, and attracts attention. Powerful drum sequences implementing the drama, and associations with war scenes. This is replaced temporarily by a tranquil scene midway with Viola da Gamba in focus. remote Galaxy appear clear programmatic, but without it being totally obvious exactly what will be illustrated.
That said, this is music that's hard to hang tags on, and that has very few obvious references to other composers. Somewhere midway I do link to the orchestration of Finnish Aulis Sallinen, but it is highly volatile.
The composition Remote Galaxy is the undisputed highlight of the disc, and justifies this release alone. But there is more, much more. Distant Typhon has a very different character than Remote Galaxy. The first part Typhon at Heart has an easy vibe led by a rollicking clarinet, and some phrasing reminiscent of Shostakovich when he was in the rather cheerful corner. Part two is called Healed by Red Wind , and has a heavier character, but here is the clarinet a cool and imaginative element.
Lost in September is the earliest composition, with its opus 17. Also here is a lush musical language that wants a lot and says a lot. The composition is based on the loss of a dog, Lady bessie.
Tightrope walking beneath heaven opus 32 is also one of the compositions with a twinkle in his eye. It forms the vanguard of what may be considered as the second major work on this release.
Flute Concerto No.2 smash brutally the notion we may have acquired that a flute concerto is something rather delicate and fragile. Flute concerto no.1 was released on his previous record - Flute Mystery, receiving a Grammy nomination four years ago in the class best surround sound album.
Flute Concerto no. 2 has four movements and all movements have plenty of drama. An organ tops this third part, providing the ultimate dynamic and dramatic contrast to the whistle. Fourth movement has almost triumphant fanfare-like phrases in the opening, and at least as great reckless rounding. No doubt Flute Concerto no.2 is my favorite along with Remote Galaxy in this release.
The release Remote Galaxy is recorded in England, Watford Colosseum northwest of London. Vladimir Ashkenazy is conducting a stunning Philharmonia Orchestra, which manages to bring out the turbulent dynamics and occasional ferocity of these compositions in an outstanding manner.
The sound is in a top league, also in 2L-scale. It is tempting to already anticipate that the Remote Galaxy gets nominated for Grammy No. 57, and Morten Lindberg for the first time succeeded in winning the trophy, after 16 nominations. Surround Playback of Remote Galaxy is so captivating that one is almost paralyzed, and slightly annoyed that it is not yet possible to benefit from the four height channels placed in the 9.1-track with Auro-3D CODEK. Here we have to wait until proper decoders are available in Norway, but there are indications that flagshipreceivers and processors may get this soon.
But the dynamics and perspective are all top notch here.
Finally I want to mention that 2L as of this release has changed the cover from the standard Blu-ray cover in soft plastic to cover Super Jewel-case in SACD-style. A very good choice!
Remote Galaxy is highly recommended to all who are open to hear music they have not heard before, and that they hardly have suspected that they might hear! And with a sound that means I'll bet you a pint that Grammy-nomination is in the bag!
(The reason I give "only" four and a half star for stereo sonics is that I have to make a difference to the surround sound. But no doubt that also stereo deserve 5 stars.)
Ths review was originally written and published by me at www.Audiophile.no, in february 2014.
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