Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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JON NORDAL (b.1926) Cello Concerto (1983) 22.03
LEIFUR THORARINSSON (b.1934) Autumn Play 11.52
MAGNUS BL. JOHANNSSON (b.1925) Adagio 6.13
HAFLIDI HALLGRIMSSON (b.1941) Poemi 19.05
Erling Blondal Bengtsson (cello) Sigrun Edvaldsdottir (violin) Iceland SO/Petri Sakari
rec Reykjavik 1987 ICELAND MUSIC INFORMATION CENTRE ITM 6-02 [59.13]

This CD has been around for a while. This never stopped the site from reviewing anything. However there are a number of reasons for noting it in some detail now.

Firstly the Iceland Music Information Centre received attention from Gramophone several months ago. Secondly Sakari and the Icelandic orchestra have been securing plaudits and celebrity as a result of the recording activities of Chandos (Madetoja, Jon Leifs and Icelandic music), BIS (Leifs Saga Symphony) and Naxos (Sibelius cycle). Thirdly Jon Leifs is commanding increasing attention with a knock-on interest in his land of sagas, geysirs, hotsprings and even Jeremy Clarkson's all terrain vehicle feature on BBC.

The well-informed music-lover will know of Jon Leifs as the most famous Icelandic musician. There are others and you can hear four of them on this disc.

The Nordal is a showpiece concerto with the whiff of dissonance hanging over its dove-grey Atlantic tones. Other denizens of this music entail a slice of Bartok, a helping of Sibelius (symphony no. 4), all on a sullen rock foundation. The concerto is virtuoso in technique and mercurial in mood; more of a concerto for orchestra with cello rather than a typically adversarial contest. The Sallinen and Kokkonen cello concertos are natural blood brothers although the Icelandic work is not quite in their league.

Thorarinsson's characterful overture glows with dissonant lyricism being at the same time more extreme than the Nordal but oddly more approachable. This is probably because whatever else he does there is melodic matter active among the atonal surreality. The work plays out in a warm glow.

Johannsson's Adagio is dreamily serene - almost a religious experience amplified by percussion and celesta.

The Hallgrimsson and Nordal works are the major pieces here. The recording is quite close up to Edvaldsdottir's poignant poniard of a violin. The music suggests a fantasy landscape in which nightmare armies of pismires swarm. Both Tippett and (more often) Penderecki are influential in the work's less accommodating reaches of atonality. The violin is constantly in motion with the work unnervingly taking in (and processing through avant-garde machinery) tributaries from both Mendelssohn and Sibelius.

A challenging listen, well documented and stunningly recorded.


Rob Barnett

Details and orders:

Helga Sif Gudmundsdóttir
Iceland Music Information Center
IS-Sidumuli 34
108 Reykjavík

Tel.: +354 568 3122
Fax: +354 568 3124


Rob Barnett

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