2L Recordings from Norway (website) tends to release its titles in clusters, and sometimes right before the holidays so that we secular folk can also have a soundtrack for the falling snow on the other side of that big open window over there. This is always a gift, in the purest of ways, but this year these three titles–Of Innocence and Experience, Beethoven’s Testaments of 1802 and The Horn in Romanticism–seem unusually suited to the waning weeks of a difficult year. Fortunately for me, these intimate recordings also shine for the audio system I have set up right now.
I’m talking, in particular, about the Marten Oscar Duo loudspeakers that just arrived this week. They’re another in a long and splendid line of two-way monitors I’ve been evaluating, and their specific calling card is a fast yet delicate sound that’s the result of those Accuton ceramic drivers. After spending a few months with the Vimberg Ameas, which wined and dined me nearly every day, I’m headed down a long and dusty road where at the end I say yeah, maybe I’m kind of a ceramic driver kind of guy.
Plus, you listen to these speakers, especially with the Jeff Rowland Design Group Continuum S2 integrated, and then you look over at these three 2L Recordings releases. One’s solo piano, one’s a duo with “historical horns” and a fortepiano, and one’s a duo for piano and violin. Then you look back at the Martens one more time and you think “this is going to be good.”
Each of these new 2L Recordings releases has that familiar sound, a single instrument or two recorded in a vast space within a Norwegian church. Producer Morten Lindberg has always known the importance of such staging, especially when it comes to establishing deep patterns of decay and echo. You should hear the sound, and then you should watch that sound travel through the space and define the room boundaries. After having listened to each recording at least a couple of times, I picked up on something. I had to search the liner notes for myself. Yes, all three were recorded in the Sofienberg Church. That’s how tight and exact these recordings are. It’s that obvious.
I listened to Beethoven’s Testaments of 1802 first, possibly because I’m at the time in my life where I need more Beethoven in my music collection. When I was younger, I often resisted Beethoven’s formaility and structure, but now I feel that I’m more receptive to his ideas. This recording features two sonatas for violin and piano, No. 8 and No. 9, performed by Ragnhild Hemsing and Tor Espen Aspaas, respectively. The theme here is a snapshot of Beethoven’s life in 1802, when he was struggling with sudden fame and how to leave behind the trappings of a normal life–“I intend to seize Fate by the throat; I will not let it bend me down and destroy me!”
The Horn in Romanticism falls just this side of the adventurous streak 2L Recordings often indulges–it’s a straightforward duo of pieces from Paul Dukas, Richard Strauss, Camille Saint-Saens and more, but with Kristen Fossheim on fortepiano and Steinar Granmo Nilsen on historical horns. Here, 2L Recordings examines a curious period of time when valves first starting to appear on horns, and how this new invention was not universally accepted. The premise here is to use those fascinating older horns to cover the innovations of the time, and why these technical developments were thought as a battle “for the soul of the horn itself.”
Finally, Of Innocence and Experience features pianist Kristian Ofstad Linberg in a fiery and dark performance of sonatas from Liszt, Schumann and again Beethoven (the “Appassionata,” of course). The complex theme behind this recording is that it was inspired by the poetry of William Blake, which is heavy on “light and darkness, life and death, angelic purity and demonic passion.” While all three 2L Recordings release are stupendous in both sound and execution, this is the piece that hits the hardest while creating constant waves of goose bumps.
You can spend your holidays with 2L Recordings, or you can step back and feel joyous by this year’s latest holiday jazz records–which, of course, will be reviewed by Ebenezer Scrooge sometime after Thanksgiving. Stay safe, stay home and listen to music.