This release is notable for its inclusion of not one, but two high-resolution formats. It was interesting to compare the Blu-ray audio directly to the SACD. I do not have surround sound and therefore listened only in stereo on a high quality system. I found the sonic differences between the two formats extremely subtle. Ultimately, however, there are audible differences. The Blu-ray (2.0 PCM mix) sounded smoother, a bit richer and warmer, with a more ambient acoustic than the SACD. On the other hand, the SACD was clearer and a bit more detailed, dynamic and expressive. Which one did I prefer? Well, as I found this band to be a bit timid and overly civilized (more below), I preferred the extra bit of clarity and dynamics provided by the SACD. But again, I want to emphasize that these differences are very subtle and may not be heard at all on many sound systems.
All that being said, let's get to the music. This is a very professional and accomplished band and they play with the utmost refinement and control. However, there is a feeling that their director, Ingar Bergby, is keeping them restrained, preferring an overly refined and civilized response from his players. Dynamics are scrupulously observed (especially on the p and pp end of the scale), but I rarely heard this group produce a true fortissimo. A rather polite forte is about as energetic as they are ever allowed to produce, which limits a sense of excitement or drama in climaxes.
I listened first to the Schoenberg Variations. I was struck by the tonal beauty and refinement of this band's playing. But I also noted some lack of involvement. I kept thinking, 'this doesn't really sound like Schoenberg - more like Brahms.' Hmmmm. Moving on to the Stravinsky Symphonies of Wind Instruments, things improved a good deal. But then in the Hindemith Symphony in Bb, I was clearly missing some oomph in climaxes. I kept turning up the volume to try to get some impact from them. And while the Wallin Changes is not my favorite piece on this program, I found it to be the most involving, dynamic and dramatic performance of the entire disc. The director obviously has a real feel for this piece and it is very well done.
Special mention must be made of the absolutely gorgeous solos played by the 1st alto sax and solo cornet in the 2nd movement of the Hindemith Symphony in Bb. This was certainly the highlight of this entire program for me. On the other hand, shame on the 1st clarinets for slurring their triplets in the 1st movement (figure K), where Hindemith goes to the trouble of marking each of those notes staccato, while the 2nds and 3rds are marked slurred. I know it's difficult - so practice it; don't simplify it.
As to balance, the pieces requiring smaller forces (the Stravinsky and Hindemith Konzertmusik) were just about perfect. However, in those requiring the full ensemble, the saxophones sounded a bit prominent and the flutes extremely weak. (Indeed they are practically inaudible except in the sparsest and most intimately scored passages.) Otherwise, the band was well balanced - but, again, in a somewhat relaxed, civilized way. The recording itself captured the church acoustic beautifully and is in no way the factor which restricted climaxes. They just weren't played that way.
Ultimately, while the audiophile in me appreciated and enjoyed the recording quality and the high-resolution formats, the musician in me came away somewhat underwhelmed. Nonetheless, it was fascinating comparing the two discs and the program performed is an extremely enjoyable one. It is very useful having all of these band classics together on one very well-filled, generous collection - especially when played as professionally as they are here.