Recurrence: The Iceland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daníel Bjarnason

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bjarnason & Thorvaldsdóttir,Jónsdóttir,Sigfúsdóttir,Vilmarsson
LABELS: Sono Luminus
ALBUM TITLE: Recurrence
WORKS: Works by Jónsdóttir, Vilmarsson, Sigfúsdóttir, Bjarnason & Thorvaldsdóttir
PERFORMER: Iceland Symphony Orchestra/ Daníel Bjarnason
CATALOGUE NO: DSL92213 (Blu-ray audio)

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Perhaps it’s not just for those who have visited Iceland that the name conjures images of elemental drama; of blue-white glaciers and steaming lava fields ringed by mountains which loom over winters of perpetual sub-zero night. This release from the Iceland Symphony Orchestra – impressively polished from an ensemble drawn largely from a tiny population – seems as much designed to showcase the land itself as its featured composers: three women and two men born between 1967 and 1980, including the fiercely capable conductor, Daníel Bjarnason.

Inspired and shaped by unique natural surroundings, the works share a common musical topography; indeed a recurring one to paraphrase the album’s enigmatic title, which proves both its strength and weakness. In effect, these are modern-day tone poems so complementary in idiom and approach that they could be movements from some collectively envisioned narrative saga. Each work employs slow-changing sonorities to evoke rugged atmospheres. The first two prove most intriguing: Jónsdóttir’s Flow and Fusion offers just that in a seamless integration of acoustic with electronic sounds, while Vilmarsson’s bd (title unexplained) employs thumps, clacks and whistles suggestive of… whale noises? More overtly tonal, Sigfúsdóttir’s Aequora picks up the watery images. As with Bjarnason’s three-part Emergence and Thorvaldsdóttir’s Dreaming there is an abundance of chord clusters and not-quite melodic themes which emerge through curtains of sustained strings and brass, deftly handled. The ultra-smooth recording adds to the sense of homogeneity, but this oyster could really do with some grit.

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Steph Power