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Iceland Symphony Orchestra/Daníel Bjarnason, et al (Sono Luminus)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Works by PR Pálsson, Sigfúdsdóttir, Thorvaldsdóttir & Tómasson
Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir (cello), Víkingur Ólafsson (piano); Iceland Symphony Orchestra/Daníel Bjarnason
Sono Luminus DSL-92237   55:22 mins

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It’s become somewhat a cliché that Icelandic composers are said to be inspired by the primordial ice and fire, darkness and glittering light of their wildly ethereal homeland. While much homegrown orchestral music does indeed draw on extreme natural phenomena, just as significant is the human perspective behind it.

From individual thought and feeling to the creative curiosity and heritage of a people, a strong sense of belonging permeates this impressive second volume of contemporary music from the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and conductor Daníel Bjarnason. Expanding on the largely nature-themed writing of volume one, the four composers here look both inwards and further outwards in diverse yet complementary ways.

While María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir’s Oceans evokes effective, if familiar, surging textures, Anna Thorvaldsdóttir expands her structural thinking with Metacosmos; a tautly expressive piece which utilises the metaphor of falling into a black hole to explore human responses to the vast, uncontrollable unknown. Played with poise by the ISO, a careful balancing of detail with broader gesture allows beauty – notably a wistful cello melody – to shine through chaos.

Interspersed between these tone poems, two composers new to the series offer contrasting concertos – both featuring excellent soloists. In Haukur Tómasson’s Piano Concerto No. 2, soloist Víkingur Ólafsson and orchestra create a complex web by turns obsessive and jaunty. Most striking of all, Páll Ragnar Pálsson’s Quake captures Iceland’s seismic instability and the resulting tension of the populace in a cello-orchestra exchange that thrills to soloist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir’s richly varied sonorities.

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Steph Power