Composers: Anna Torvaldsdóttir, Haukur Tómasson, Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Páll Ragnar Pálsson
Compositions: Metacosmos, Piano Concerto No 2, Oceans, Quake
Performers: Víkingur Ólafsson p, Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir vc, Iceland Symphony Orchestra/Daníel Bjarnason
Catalogue Number: Dorian Sono Luminus DSL92237
With a population of around 340,000, Iceland seems to be punching way above its weight as far as the arts are concerned. From pop to classical, and especially in experimental music, Reykjavík has become a must-visit location not just for the vibrant musical culture but for the first-class technical facilities for performance and recording.
“Concurrence” is the follow-up to 2017’s “Recurrence,” both of them part of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s “ISO Project” a series of programs produced under the canny eye and ear of conductor, composer and Artist-in-Residence Daníel Bjarnason. Although an environmental bond clearly exists between the four composers represented here – a commonality tied up in the unique landscape and climate of their native land – there’s also an enthralling variety in terms of compositional language, approach and musical form.
At just over 40, Anna Torvaldsdóttir (b.1977) is beginning to feel like the doyen of Icelandic composers. Although it would be tempting to assume her Metacosmos is a meditation on her homeland, the composer warns against being overly specific, instead describing her music as “an ecosystem of materials that are carried from one performer – or performers – to the next throughout the process of the work.” Emerging from a bottom-of-the-Rhine-type hum, the music draws the listener in as it pulses and spreads, writhing and rippling, and ultimately thrashing with percussive energy as it threatens to break free. The ISO sounds like it has this music in its DNA, producing a glowing, natural sound as Bjarnason guides them skilfully through the work’s 13-minute arc.
In fact, Haukur Tómasson (b.1960) is the senior composer here and his brilliant, brittle Second Piano Concerto includes a sensitive and involving performance from Limelight International Artist of the Year Víkingur Ólafsson. A most attractive piece in clearly defined sections, it pits the piano at its most glittering against spiky orchestral textures flecked with tuned percussion. The soloist is generally very much part of the mix, a mark perhaps of the strong communal bonds at the root of Icelandic society. Orchestral programmers should investigate, especially if they want to present Ólafsson in his “natural habitat”.
The impressive Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir (b.1980) was also featured on “Recurrence” and her Oceans is perhaps the jewel in the album’s crown. On the surface – pardon the pun – it is a sun-dappled, nine-minute exploration of “ocean-ness,” but its journey could equally easily be an emotional one, its hypnotic rise and fall suggesting the heaving of the human breast.
The finale is Quake by Páll Ragnar Pálsson (b.1977), an exploration of the kind of tectonic convulsions that are a part of Icelandic life. It’s also a cello concerto (or perhaps fantasy would be a better term) with Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir an impressively focussed soloist. At 15-minutes it struggles to hold the attention throughout, but there’s plenty of interest, especially early on. Engineering throughout is quite superb.
Recurrence was good, Concurrence is very good. Let’s hope there’s an ISO Project Volume 3 in the works.