WORKS: Flute Mystery
PERFORMER: Beynon (flute); Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy, Fred Jonny Berg
CATALOGUE NO: 2L 58 SABD
It was inevitable that, sooner or later, audio only recordings would start to appear on Blu-ray discs. The rationale is simple: over the coming years, Blu-ray will replace existing DVD and audio players. On current DVD players, audio tends to be sacrificed for picture quality, but this need not be the case with Blu-ray. Therefore, for those wanting the highest quality surround-sound audio, with or without pictures, Blu-ray is a logical step.
The only problem is that, while SACD and DVD-A had only limited success in popular music and jazz, numerous classical SACDs are released each month, so there is an established and successful format. In recognition of this, these very smart-looking first five Blu-ray audio-only discs from the enterprising Norwegian label 2L each include an additional hybrid SACD with a conventional CD layer.
In other words, unless you still hanker for vinyl, all the bases are covered. Moreover, this makes possible a direct comparison between the various incarnations, though without a spare £4,500 for Denon’s universal player when it appears later this year, this is also an exercise in virtuoso remote control juggling!
So, what are the differences between Blu-ray and SACD for the listener? Well, it is not a difference of quality. Blu-ray is not fundamentally better, or worse, than SACD in terms of sound (though timings of tracks are not displayed as conveniently). Rather it is a matter of emphasis or colour.
Morten Lindberg (the founder of 2L) finds that SACD is ‘softer and more beautiful [than Blu-ray], but slightly less detailed’ and expresses a slight preference for the new format. However, he acknowledges that factors such as microphone placings for the recording, and the listener’s speakers are more important, which is as well, as my impressions only partially matched his.
As if to prove the point in another way, hot of the press comes Flute Mystery, which finds Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia in works by fred jonny berg, including the title work and his Flute Concerto, written for and performed by Emily Beynon. Sadly, this disc simply proves comprehensively that you can have the most incredible recording system capturing top-class performances, but poor music sounds terrible in any format.
These works provide little more than a pedestrian easy-listening pastiche of neo-classicism (go figure), with echoes of Prokofiev, Gershwin, Britten and middle years Stravinsky, but entirely lacking the individuality, wit, vigour, drive and invention of any of them. The ‘mystery’ is why this is being preserved for posterity. This latest release aside, though, 2L are to be congratulated for their strong advocacy of high resolution recordings on both Blu-ray and SACD. Now will others follow suit? Christopher Dingle