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Leifur THÓRARINSSON (1934-1998)
The Eternal Quest

In Cyprus: Concerto for Chamber Orchestra (1993)[12.02]
Rent for string orchestra (1976) [9.46]
Spring in my heart: Chamber concerto for 12 instruments (1993) [18.41]
A Dream of the ‘House’ for harp and strings (1972) [6.24]
Angelus Domini for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra (1975) [13.14]
Styr - Notturno capriccioso: Concerto for piano and chamber orchestra (1988) [12.14]
Gudrún Edda Gunnarsdóttir (mezzo-soprano)
Anna Gudný Gudmundsdóttir (piano)
Reykjavik Chamber Orchestra/Bernard Wilkinson
Recorded at Vidistadakirkja, Iceland, January, February, September 2001


Iceland’s leading composer Leifur Thórarinsson first studied violin at the Reykjavik School of Music and went on to play with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. In the 1960s, he studied composition under Wallingford Riegger and Gunther Schuller. A prolific composer, he wrote music for all media, including opera and more than sixty pieces for theatre productions. Schuller himself said of his erstwhile pupil, ‘Leifur has been the leading composer in Iceland for the last thirty years. If not for the recent quantity of releases featuring Icelandic composers and musicians, most people would assume there wasn’t significant music from there. I am particularly proud to contribute to this belated recognition’.

This disc provides both an intriguing panorama of the variety in styles and forms Thórarinsson favoured, and is an excellent introduction to his thoroughly approachable music. He clearly had uncompromising integrity as a composer, as he himself said ‘one always describes some kind of experience in one’s work. It is impossible to lie in music’. Although a convinced exponent of Second Viennese School serialism, in the end he found a personal style which took and incorporated elements not only from Schoenberg but also Stravinsky and jazz. Rent explores a large array of string sounds (it was commissioned by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra for a sum which paid a month’s rent) in short motivic fragments, dissonant note clusters and wide-ranging glissandi, all constantly seeking resolution seemingly without ever achieving it. Not even a deformed classical minuet played by a concertante string quartet can solve the dilemma until a four-part hymn quietly appears and resolves the confusion by an assertion of faith in God. Further religious influences can be found in Angelus Domini in a translation from a medieval Latin poem, a simple, unambiguous work which effectively conveys the serenity of the poem’s mood.

Three of four chamber concertos he completed before his death appear here on tracks 1, 3 and 6, the Notturno capriccioso entitled Styr (meaning ‘disagreement’ or ‘battle’) using the same orchestration as Schoenberg’s first chamber symphony which was part of the programme at the work’s 1988 premiere at the Reykjavik Arts Festival. The battle of ideas or between people is represented in musical terms by the somewhat unequal struggle between piano and chamber orchestra, with a hint of an allusion to the Dies Irae once again introducing a religious element, but at the end it is quite unclear if in fact there have been either winners or losers. In Cyprus pretty well reflects its title, Byzantine church frescoes and icons inspiring its composition during the year he lived there. A longer sojourn in Denmark produced the lovely work for harp and strings A Dream of the ‘House’ a brief intermezzo entitled Interlude-Pantomime. Spring in my Heart is vivacious and bustling with energy with plenty of opportunity for its dozen soloists to display their abilities, including an elaborate cadenza for flute, marimba, vibraphone and guitar.

His death five years ago was untimely, for he was at the peak of his creative powers and had a universal message in his music. Clearly all the performers here have received and understood his musical message and have had a significant working relationship with Leifur Thórarinsson, whose music now deserves a wider hearing. It is music well worth the effort of getting to know.

Christopher Fifield


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