Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Three Concertos
Ulisse Ritorna - Cello Concerto (1981)
Bükolla - Clarinet Concerto (1974)
Fylgjur - Violin Concerto (1981)
Hafli½ i Hallgrímsson (cello)
Einar Jóhannesson (clarinet)
Hannele Segerstam (violin)
Iceland SO/Gu½ mundur Emilsson (cello); Petri Sakari (clarinet); Leif Segerstam (violin)
rec Háskólabió, Reykjavik, Iceland, 1983-1989 - issued 1993


Sigurbjörnsson wrote these three concertos for friends (rather like Malcolm Arnold) and gave each work a name (unlike Arnold) as is his preference going by the evidence of another IMIC CD (ITM 7-11). There are two returning 'Ulysses' in the case of the Cello Concerto: both the conductor and the soloist had, in 1981, returned to Iceland after many years away. The imprimatur of the composer, original conductor and soloist make this a reference recording. The concerto (like the other two) is in a single unbroken span. The 'tongue' is one touched with folksong and it bears testimony to the influence of Sibelius as well. The Cello Concerto's 'brethren' are the Sallinen and Kokkonen concertos with more in common with the stronger Sallinen work. It would be easy to imagine Arto Noras tackling this work. The composer makes much of the eager, high-lying, tense string lines and Beethovenian hammerheads reminding me of a similar presence in Thorarinnsson's Second Symphony (ITM 7-12). Sigurbjörnsson is a sensitive soul with no failings in the direction of bombast and a blessedly free-thinking liberation from trendy vapidity. Búkolla is the eldest work of the trio. Although the composer refers to a legend connected with the music it needs no such extramusical props. It is a flighty fantasy work in which virtuosity is on more overt display than in the cello concerto. This is a happy work whose lack of complexity, restless delight in melody (updated Madetoja, Peterson-Berger perhaps) and buoyant goodwill defeat any fears there may be about empty-headed exhibitionism. The composer's 'troll-chase' legend seems more fitting to the first five minutes and than to its long and mesmerising dream andante - itself looking forward seven years to the cello concerto. The Aurora Borealis 'breathing' of the woodwind and high strings recalls Ravel's Daphnis short-circuited into the 'Northern Lights' motif from Eduard Tubin's Sixth Symphony and Second Piano Sonata. Absolutely glorious writing with the only concession to avant-garderie being the composer's temptation to ask the soloist to walk around and into the auditorium during the performance. Contemporaneous with the Ulisse work is Fylgjur which, at just over fifteen minutes, is the shortest work on the disc. Its irate buzzing, percussive undertow and bass-heavy ululation suggests an influence from the Jón Leifs and even made me suspect Sigurbjörnsson might have heard Hovhaness's Vishnu Symphony and Fra Angelico Overture (try 6.20 if you don't believe me). The solo part is far more edgy and steeped in asperity than the singing parts of the other two concertos. Its heredity is in a purely orchestral work written in 1978 to which Segerstam (the conductor) incited the composer to add a solo line for the conductor's wife Hannele.

Þhorkell Sigurbjörnsson's first name can also be rendered as Thorkell. This version sets less of a challenge to character sets than the more faithfully Icelandic Þorkell.

Sigurbjörnsson strongly merits your attention. The concertos for cello and clarinet make easy conquests. The violin concerto is made of more adamantine material but it promises rewards from repeat hearings. Rare repertoire somehow excuses the short playing time. Recording quality is natural enough with dynamic levels unalloyed but a noticeable and very agreeable closeness in the case of the clarinet concerto.

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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