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Pekka Kuusisto (violin), et al; Iceland Symphony Orchestra/Daníel Bjarnason (Sono Luminus)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Works by Bjarnason, MB Johannsson, Jónsdóttir, Tómasson and Vaka
Mario Caroli (flute), Pekka Kuusisto (violin); Iceland Symphony Orchestra/Daníel Bjarnason
Sono Luminus DSL-92243   70:42 mins

This third – and, for now, final – instalment of Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s Project series continues with aplomb their survey of homegrown contemporary composers. In all, nine have been featured; each in their way reflecting the richly creative ethos that has flourished post-war in that land of ice and volcanic fire.

Three composers return from previous volumes – including the brilliant series conductor, Daníel Bjarnason. His 2017 Violin Concerto opens the album with a spectacular performance by soloist Pekka Kuusisto. Intensely virtuosic, the violin is nonetheless always part of a greater whole: from folky, whistled tunes to roaring and growling on the detuned bottom string, storms of colour are unleashed for the orchestra to absorb and rework in surging textures.

By contrast, Thurídur Jónsdóttir’s Flutter suffuses a slow-moving orchestral backdrop with recordings of grasshoppers, against which flute soloist Mario Caroli explores bird-like extended techniques in honour of Messiaen’s 2008 birth centenary.

While a more human drama pervades Haukur Tómasson’s quirkily imaginative In Seventh Heaven (2011), Iceland’s landscape takes centre stage in Lendh (2019) by Canadian-born newcomer, Veronique Vaka. Transcribing into sound the topography of a geothermal region near Reykjavik, the orchestra feels embedded in the environment: solid yet lithe, dark yet light and peppered with eruptions that subside as quickly as they appear.

Also new to the series is Magnús Blöndal Jóhannsson (1925-2005). The former avant-gardist brings this engaging release to a rapt close with his lyrically tonal Adagio, which emerged in 1980 following a lengthy silence.

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Steph Power