Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Kisum (1970)
Gunnar Egilson clarinet, lngvar Jónasson viola, Thorkell Sigurbjörnsson piano
Hässelby Quartet (1968)
The Saulesco Quartet: Mirexa Saulesco, Claes Nilsson, Holger Hanson, Ake Olofsson
Copenhagen Quartet (1978)
The Copenhagen Quartet: Tutter Givskov, Mogens Durhoim, Mogens Bruun, Asger Lund Christiansen
Visit Quartet (1993)
The Oslo String Quartet: Geir Inge Lotsberg, Per Kristian Skalstad, Are Sandbakken, Oystein Sonstad

This disc is oddly balanced. Nothing wrong with the recording quality. What disconcerts is the juxtaposing of a work like Kisum with three string quartets. The clarinet work Kisum is a concerto in all but name. It reminded me of Thea Musgrave's clarinet concerto - the one recorded on a Decca Headline LP way back in the early 1970s. It is a work of rattling and dazzling virtuosity. Continuity of line is not however its forte and while some of its packed incidents are attractive (there are some superb fanfares and clarion calls from the soloist) in themselves it communicates as a concatenation of events without underpinning linkage. I must not neglect the extremely attractive 'piano dance' movement which suggests that the composer was also paying coruscating tribute to de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain.

The three string quartets (named but not numbered - shades of Daniel Jones here) show unequivocal mastery. They start with the Shostakovich inflected soul-chill and earnestness of Hässelby. The recording's technical dimension serves up a sound that is extremely close without being oppressive. This is a remarkable work with ear-screechingly loud pizzicati and the message of a sap-oozingly warm Icelandic summer day. The other two quartets (Copenhagen and Visit) link to the Bridge String Quartets Numbers 3 and 4 but with yet greater stress on asperity. The composer has not completely resisted the blandishments of the 1960s Polish vanguard with their skittering, swoops and slides but his material is always strong in the melodic grain and time after time that staggeringly vivacious recording quality wins over the listener. Sigbjörnnsson is not to be dismissed. He does not have Leifs' oxymoronic combination of bluntness and timelessness. What he does have is an uncivilised vitality. Not to be missed. Do not be put off by Kisum. Go straight to the string quartets.

Rob Barnett

Helga Sif Gudmundsdóttir
Iceland Music Information Centre
Sidumula 34
108 Reykjavik
phone +354 568 3122
fax +354 568 3124

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