October 2021 Classical Record Reviews

Trio Mediæval: Solacium
Trio Mediæval, vocals; Trygve Seim, saxophone; Mats Eilertsen, double bass.
2L-165 (24/352.8 MQA FLAC), 2021. Morten Lindberg & Arve Henriksen, co-prods.; Lindberg, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

In switching from ECM New Series to 2L, Norwegian women's vocal ensemble Trio Mediæval has moved from a label known for atmospheric acoustics to one lauded for capturing resonant 3D space and pristine silences. Aided by label founder/producer/engineer Morten Lindberg, who has received 28 Grammy nominations and one Award, Trio Mediæval delivers sublime, realistic-sounding performances that can be enjoyed in SACD, MQA-CD, several surround-sound formats, and the stereo 24/352 MQA FLAC files I auditioned.

Solacium is a collection of 16 gentle, sometimes dissonant hymns and lullabies. Most were passed down in Norway and the Swedish-speaking community of Estonia. Three are contemporary. Several were arranged by one or more of Trio Mediæval's members; others benefit from the input of saxophonist Trygve Seim and double bassist Mats Eilertsen, who solo on some selections. The five musicians take the concept originally explored by The Hilliard Ensemble and saxophonist Jan Garbarek a major step forward.

No collection of facts can convey the mesmerizing beauty of this recording. Each performance is imbued with an indelible purity that evokes memories of women's quartet Anonymous 4 but in far better sound. The instrumental soloists uncannily enter unobtrusively, almost as a fourth voice, producing counterpoint that stirs the soul. Many selections convey the nature of the Norwegian landscape; all provide solace and warmth amidst the tundra. Auditioned in silence, Solacium conveys the divine nature of existence with transporting purity.—Jason Victor Serinus


Victoria: Officium hebdomadae sanctae
La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Hespèrion XXI/Jordi Savall.
AliaVox AVSA 9943 (3 CDs). 2021. Manuel Mohino and Elie Hanquart, prod. and eng.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

The formidable Latin title merely means "Office of Holy Week"—the Divine Office prayed at prescribed times by the Catholic clergy. Here, the Matins (morning prayers) for the Easter Triduum have been adapted for choral celebration, interspersed with appropriate chants and instrumental processionals, as in the actual liturgies.

Savall has prepared this edition carefully. His choices of whether and when to have instruments reinforce the voices and when to use female or male voices all make musical and dramatic sense. (The women make less-dense sounds than the men, who make some of the alto parts sound quite high. Everyone manages straight tone well, so the differences are insignificant.) As director, he's also excellent, taking some settings as a fully fledged alla breve to keep things moving and flowing, bringing out the music's sensuous warmth as well as its purity. Overall discipline is mostly excellent.

The emotional heart of the performance is the chanted St. John Passion in the Good Friday service. The narrator, AndrÇs Montilla-Acurero, and the other chant soloists vary their pace and inflection to provide dramatic immediacy; the choral responses, representing the crowd, are alert and vital. The narrative emerges in a single, inexorable arc.

The reproduction suggests a hieratic resonance, without the inevitable blunting of detail: voices and instruments are clear and precisely placed. At the top of the staff, the sopranos sometimes hit the mikes hard and the double-chorus pieces aren't particularly directional, but the six-part motets flood the room with radiant sound. —Stephen Francis Vasta


Ieva Jokubaviciute: Northscapes
Ieva Jokubaviciute, piano.
Sono Luminus DSL-92251 (auditioned in 24/352.8 WAV). 2021. Dan Merceruio, prod.; Daniel Shores, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

What most distinguishes Northscape, beyond the stellar pianism of Lithuania-born Ieva Jokubaviciute and the excellence of this DXD capture, is the recording's exploration of the intersection of external, internal, and interstellar landscapes. Journeys through forests, water, and inner and outer space intertwine in music that stretches the limits of the modern piano and enters uncharted realms.

The contrast between the opening works, Lasse Thoresen's Invocation of Pristine Light, Op.52, No.1 (2014) and Anna Thorvaldsdottir's Scape (2011), sets the tone for the expedition. Thoresen's piece—one of Four Invocations that simultaneously explore the physical elements and the realms of consciousness, spirit, soul, and body—abounds in glistening radiance. Thoresen, who takes his lead from Terry Riley, John Cage, and others, leaves it up to Ms. Jokubaviciute to determine the succession and combination of notated sequences. Thorvaldsdottir, on the other hand, instructs that her notated piece must be played with screws placed between certain strings and sounds extracted with thimble and e-bow. The unusual textures and colors that emerge from this "prepared" New York Steinway D open a gateway to a fantastic sonic universe that's strong, fragile, and utterly compelling.

On a recording filled with marvels, Bent Sørensen never leaves us sure where we're going, while Kaija Saariaho assures us that the journey will expand the imagination. Raminta Šerkšnyte's post-romanticism and Peteris Vasks's gorgeous, dreamy sojourn conclude with Thoresen's mystical march into the present future. —Jason Victor Serinus


Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Enigma
Spektral Quartet
Sono Luminus DSL-92250 (reviewed in 24/352.8 stereo WAV). 2021. Dan Merceruio, prod.; Daniel Shores, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

The aborted premiere of Anna Thorvaldsdottir's first string quartet, Enigma (2019), is a case of music that upends being upended by the unexpected. Commissioned by the thrice Grammy–nominated Spektral Quartet, the 28-minute Enigma was on course for performance at Carnegie Hall and on a National Planetarium 360°-immersion video tour when the pandemic went viral. Instead of touring, the Spektrals recorded the work within Sono Luminus's studio, a stone church whose spacious acoustic is magnified here by amplification and artificial reverb that Thorvaldsdottir hoped would create a "warm resonating sound."

This is the point where basic facts cede to otherworldly wonders. Enigma's opening leads us into a realm Spektral violist Doyle Armbrust describes as "the borderlands of light and dark." This musical journey between the known and the unknown enters a fantastic in-between that transcends such familiar polarities as sturm und drang and Mahlerian heaven and hell.

With each new piece, Thorvaldsdottir grows more sophisticated in creating a unique universe of sound and texture whose dimensions and meaning change with each system and listener. Nonetheless, I expect that in the second movement most listeners will find Enigma's universe expanding in width and intensity. The third and final movement propels the New Age acoustic and electronic space music of earlier decades into new galaxies. As I sat in silence, it felt as though mind and body had begun to vibrate in some different dimension. I cannot recommend Thorvaldsdottir's music highly enough.—Jason Victor Serinus

Charles E Flynn's picture

From https://shop.2l.no/pages/about-us :

Audio as a sculpture

There is no method available today to reproduce the exact perception of attending a live performance. That leaves us with the art of illusion when it comes to recording music. As recording engineers and producers we need to do exactly the same as any good musician: interpret the music and the composer’s intentions and adapt to the media where we perform. Immersive Audio is a completely new conception of the musical experience. Recorded music is no longer a matter of a fixed one- or two-dimensional setting, but rather a three-dimensional enveloping situation. Immersive Audio is a sculpture that you can literally move around and relate to spatially; surrounded by music you can move about in the aural space and choose angles, vantage points and positions. Rather than reproducing a concert situation we consider the Recording Art a discipline on its own. It gives us the possibility to place the listener in an ideal position and become an actual party to the event. Thru a dedicated production of the music we can maximize energy, reveal all the small nuances and avoid disturbing distractions. The emotional impact can be made massive. The conductor’s position is the seat no audience can afford — until now with these dedicated recordings.

Morten Lindberg Balance Engineer and Recording Producer

Herb Reichert's picture

what would my life be like without you?

First it was Trio Madiaeval, and now it the divine Anna Thorvaldsdottir and the Spektral Quartet. You keep showing me new paths to the blinding heavens.

Thank you for finding these deep listening treasures.

your brother in Bed Stuy