WORKS: Time and Water
PERFORMER: Marta G Halldórsdóttir (soprano), Sverrir Gudjónsson (countertenor), Bergthór Pálsson (baritone); Reykjavík CO & Chorus/Paul Zukofsky
CATALOGUE NO: 999 865-2
Frost-cold shadows between sleep and dream, focused in the voices of baritone, saxophone and guitar; a countertenor’s voice imagining life like a round coin set on edge: these fugitive images, precisely and fleetingly incarnated in sound, form part of the world of Atli Heimir Sveinsson. One of Iceland’s most prolific and highly respected composers, he was born in 1938, and trained in those heady post-independence days when professional musical life on the North Atlantic island was making rapid strides forward.
And this is Time and Water, Atli Heimir’s ‘ballet-oratorio’, a real one-off within his extensive and eclectic oeuvre: a suite of settings of the poetry of Iceland’s early 20th-century modernist, Steinn Steinarr, interspersed with pungent instrumental interludes. At two and a half hours, it’s a long stream-of-consciousness of a listen – and you need to pace yourself. But, with the Reykjavik Chamber Orchestra and Chorus superbly controlled by Paul Zukofsky, and joined by some of the hottest vocal properties on the island, it’s a mesmeric and cumulatively enriching experience.
Atli Heimir, like most of his compatriots, studied in Germany and in the States, then returned to be one of the many one-man-bands of composition, academe and administration in Iceland’s musical life. His scores can sometimes sound like a compendium of 20th-century musical practice; but here we tune into his own distinctive voice and highly refined aural imagination. Instrumentation is spare, vocal writing varied, often florid – and constantly compelling in the voices of the fine countertenor Sverrir Gudjónsson, soprano Marta Halldórsdóttir and baritone Bergthór Pálsson. Hilary Finch