Modern Mandolin Quartet – “Americana” [TrackList follows] Sono Luminus audio-only Blu-ray + CD DSL-92157, 72:13 [Distr. by Naxos] (8/28/12) *****:
Bravo Sono Luminus! This may be the way to get audio-only hi-res surround Blu-ray to be a successful format. The package is in a standard double-CD jewelbox, it clearly says on the side BLU-RAY AUDIO + CD, and the price is less than most imported single SACDs. Since there is now a greater penetration of Blu-ray decks than SACD-compatible decks, this may be a better solution than Naxos, 2L and a couple others are attempting with their large DVD packages—some with two discs and others only the Blu-ray. This seems to me a better idea than 2L’s combo packages of an audio-only Blu-ray + identical SACD. Since this is one of two such first combo releases, I was surprised not to find a single page in the note booklet or on the jewelbox explaining the advantages of Blu-ray lossless audio. There’s a vital need for that, because the Amazon customer review of this disc says you can’t play this Blu-ray on your Blu-ray video deck—you need a separate Blu-ray audio deck. Completely wrong! The jewelbox lists the tracks on the Blu-ray disc as: 7.1 96/24 DTS-MA, 5.1 192/24 DTS-MA, and 192 stereo PCM.
The Modern Mandolin Quartet’s members say these works attracted them because of the wonderful way they sounded on their mandolins. They are all various forms of Americana music, and seem to lend themselves well to the four instruments. I think Dvorak especially would be quite surprised to hear his “American” String Quartet No. 12 on four mandolins! The other string quartet arrangement on the discs is Philip Glass’ Quartet No. 3 from Mishima. We had just heard this one recently transcribed for a saxophone quartet, and it works equally well on mandolins. It’s amazing how well it fits into the program, because you would think it wouldn’t.
Then there are the three Piano Preludes of Gershwin, which also have been transcribed for many different instruments. Copland’s Hoe-Down, “Cool” from West Side Story, the lovely American folk song Shenandoah, a Bill Monroe Medley and an Irish Roots Medley fill out the program. David Grisman loaned the Quartet his Gibson mandocello for this session. Mandolin orchestras were all the rage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; their unique sound is a delight. All the arrangements are a delight, and I especially liked Sono Luminus’ approach to micing, which places the four mandolinists at the four outlying speakers around you, the same as the Tacet label does with many of their SACDs and DVD-As of quartets and quintets. One really gets involved in the music that way, and it seems perfect for this material. The recording session was at the renowned Skywalker sound studios in Marin County, CA—famous for its extremely low noise floor and is SOTA quality. The accompanying standard stereo CD is only a flat-sounding approximation of the Blu-ray tracks, but would be handy for your car, computer and mobile playback.
1. “Hoe-Down”, from Rodeo – Aaron Copland
String Quartet No. 12 in F, Op. 96, B. 179, (“The American”) – Antonin Dvorák
2. I. Allegro ma non troppo
3. II. Lento
4. III. Molto vivace
5. IV. Finale: Vivace, ma non troppo
6. “Cool”, from West Side Story – Leonaord Bernstein
Three Preludes — George Gershwin
8. Prelude I: Allegro ben ritmato e deciso
9. Prelude II: Andante con moto e poco rubato
10. Prelude III: Allegro ben ritmato e deciso
11. Bill Monroe Medley – William Monroe
Philip Glass: from String Quartet No.3 “Mishima”
12. I. 1957 – Award Montage
13. II. November 25 – Ichigaya
14. III. 1962 – Body Building
15. IV. Mishima/Closing
16. Irish Roots Medley
Pure Pleasure Records releases a re-mastered vinyl of a live duo performance by Archie Shepp.