Audio: Listen to this article.
Growing up on a steady diet of Led Zeppelin, The Who, Van Halen, and Pearl Jam, I'm fully aware of the limits of my worldly musical knowledge. These limits lead to enjoyable discoveries, as I found out a couple weeks ago. I had a guest over listening to my immersive audio system. I played him a new recording I'd just purchased from TRPTK. He immediately asked if the musician was playing the viola da gamba. I showed him the album cover that said 12 Fantasias for Viola da Gamba, and immediately thought to myself, what is a viola da gamba?
I later dove into the viola da gamba, composer Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), and musician Ralph Rousseau. As I read, I also continued listening to this new immersive release by TRPTK titled Telemann: 12 Fantasias for Viola da Gamba. The compositions, the story of how they were lost and found, and a meeting through pure happenstance that lead to this recording, much of this detailed int he PDF liner notes, all help to setup one heck of a musical performance and immersive album.
Unbeknownst to me, the viola da gamba is more akin to a cello than a traditional viola. I found this out from the little known Viola da Gamba Society of America. It's an absolutely beautiful sounding instrument in the right hands, and Ralph Rousseau has those hands.
"In the historical center of Utrecht, on the edge of the Catharijnesingel, you’ll find the Geertekerk. This church is characterised by its extraordinary acoustics and rich history." According to the liner notes. This is the church in which TRPTK engineer Brendon Heinst and his team recorded Ralph Rousseau playing an early 18th century 6-string viola da gamba by Georg Aman with Gerhard Landwehr bow, over two and a half days in 2019.
Music lovers and audiophiles will also find the following information from the liner notes reassuring and exciting.
"This created the perfect opportunity to make a true no-compromises recording. Because, well, let’s face it: unfortunately every recording has compromises as part of the process, however microscopically tiny. You have a limited number of recording days, you have to work with the elements of what’s there, and so on and so forth.
But not for this recording. Starting with the location — together with Ralph, we chose the magnificent Geertekerk in our hometown of Utrecht. Built in the 13th century, this church has some of the most incredible acoustics in the country, making it perfect for a period instrument such as the gamba. Of course, we also had to use the best tools for the job, so we reached out to DPA Microphones
in Denmark, who were kind enough to supply us with their latest 4006A omnidirectional and 4015A subcardioid microphones. We wanted to record the Geertekerk as it is, in surround, with nothing added or removed from it, making the DPAs the clear choice. Paired with the most high-end microphone cabling in the world, custom-built for us by Furutech, and suspended on their NCF Boosters, we were sure of creating the most accurate reproduction of the sound of Ralph’s instrument in the space were we spent two and a half days of intense recording."
The more I listened to the Dolby Atmos TrueHD version of Ralph Rousseau playing in the Geertekerk, the more enthralled I became with this album. Both Rousseau and Heinst are masters of their own domains. Right from the opening piece, Fantasia No. 1 in C Minor, TWV 40:26: I. Adagio - Allegro - Adagio - Allegro, my listening chair was transported to the Geertekerk in Utrecht, Netherlands with Ralph Rousseau playing in front of me and the sound of the venue's acoustics all around. To those who may haver reservations about a single instrument being reproduced in Atmos, I challenge you to listen to this album and remain unconvinced.
The entire hour and fifteen minutes of music goes by in the blink of an eye, with one piece flowing right into the next while capturing the listeners' attention and audibly sending them into the year 1735. I've listened to this album, start to finish, several times and not once picked up my phone to check email or messages. After pressing play, I don't want it to end. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Purchase and download the immersive version directly from TRPTK here, or listen to the stereo version through the streaming service of your choice.
Two other gems I've been listening to are Benedek Horvath's Golberg Variations (TrueHD Dolby Atmos) and the forthcoming Trondheim Symphony Orchestra's Henning Sommerro: BORDERS (October 6, 2023 on 2L, 2L-173-SABD). Horvath's Goldberg Variations is just beautiful for both the music and the recording / immersive mix. This is a more traditional immersive mix, but rightfully so. The listener is placed in the room with Horvath as he works his magic. The piano reverberations on the TrueHD Dolby Atmos version just can't be reproduced like this in stereo. This is another album that captures my attention from beginning to end, nearly one and a half hours of music.
Recorded by 2L's Morten Lindberg, Henning Sommerro: BORDERS is absolutely cutting edge immersive audio at its best. Norwegian musician and composer Henning Sommerro has a way of creating such engaging pieces that even I, the antithesis of a classical aficionado, enjoy immensely. Listening to this album immersively, I imagine the journey of the character(s) to the eternal city just before the Summer solstice, with daylight abound. I get completely lost in the music and the story.
The album was recorded in the round, with immersive audio in mind from the beginning. This is another configuration that many who lack experience listening to immersive audio struggle with. I don't blame them, I was in the exact same boat! Why would one want to sit in the middle of all the musicians, when all the musicians sit in front of the audience at a concert? As Bowers & Wilkins used to rightly advertise, "Listen and You'll See." Once this album is heard on an immersive system, it feels like a large compromise to jam all the musicians into the front of the room. Attempting to hear individual instruments or even groups of instruments, when they are spread out around the listener, is a piece of cake. As the musicians are compressed into the front of a room, this becomes more difficult. Increasing the difficulty even more is fitting all of this into two speakers. It can be done gracefully, but not with ultimate fidelity and ultimate realism.
I listened to the 7.1.4 DXD Discrete Immersive version of this album. That's 12 channels of 24/352.8 with a bit rate of 101,606 Kbps (CD is 1,411 Kbps). I have no doubt the TrueHD Dolby Atmos version of the album will be equally as engaging and highly recommend every pre-order it now (before the October 6, 2023 release date). The music is fantastic. The engineering is fantastic. What's not to love!
I'll wrap up this edition of my immersive favorites with a new video about Dolby Atmos music from the American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). I usually roll my eyes when watching videos like this, but PBS and those interviewed really nailed it. It's a good watch for those who have immersive systems, those interested in the technology, or even those who are skeptical because it reiterates what many of us have been saying for a while. While we didn't share notes or experiences, it's interesting to hear some of the same descriptions of what's heard through Dolby Atmos music, from those in this video.