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Haukur TÓMASSON (b. 1960)
Concerto No.1 for Flute and Orchestra (1997) [19:08]
Skíma (2001/2) [20:07]
Concerto No.2 for Flute and Orchestra (2001) [21:43]
Sharon Bezaly (flute, concertos)
Hávarđur Tryggvason, Valur Pálsson (double-basses, Skíma)
Iceland Symphony Orchestra/Bernarđur Wilkinson
rec. Háskolábíó, Reykjavík, Iceland, June 2004
BIS BIS-CD-1419 [62:18]



Now in his late forties, Tómasson has a substantial and varied output to his credit, which has put him at the forefront of Icelandic composers of his generation.
 
His short opera Fjórđi söngur Guđrúnar (“Guđrún’s Fourth Song”, 1994/6), available on BIS-CD-908, was awarded the 2004 Nordic Council Music Prize. Several other works, including his Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra, are available on BIS-CD-1068, which I have yet to hear. Moreover, the present recording of his Second Flute Concerto was released some time ago as part of “Nordic Spell” (BIS-CD-1499)
 
The disc under review offers his two flute concertos as well as Skíma for two double-basses and orchestra, the most recent work here. The Concerto No.1 for Flute and Orchestra is a substantial single movement work, falling into eleven dissimilar sections (so says the composer). They follow a fast-slow-fast model capped by a slow coda. The work opens with a grumbling, insistent double-bass motif paving the way for the first entry of the soloist. He jumps into the picture with animated, florid lines that barely slow, even when the orchestra seems to take a break. In the beautifully atmospheric central section, the music becomes more meditative, displaying a slightly oriental flavour. The full orchestra creeps in with renewed energy, disrupting the contemplative mood of the preceding section. The piece ends with an appeased, shimmering coda of great sonic beauty.
 
The Concerto No.2 for Flute and Orchestra is in five interrelated movements sharing melodic material, thus emphasising its symphonic structure while allowing for variety within a globally unified context. The opening movement alternates various moods. The second movement begins hesitantly before launching a sort of moto perpetuo. The ensuing Calmo is a beautiful nocturne in all but name. It is capped by a more animated episode leading straight into the fourth movement, a brilliant, light-footed Scherzo of considerable virtuosity. The finale is for the most part a long accompanied cadenza, the full orchestra joining in late for the rather mysterious, inconclusive ending.
 
Skíma (an Icelandic word meaning “a faint gleam of light”) was composed for the present soloists, who are long-time friends of the composer. It is for two double basses and orchestra, not the easiest combination, which is why the second bass is tuned a half-step higher. The orchestra dispenses with bass instruments: no bassoons, horns, tuba or orchestral basses. In spite of its title, which the beautiful picture adorning the cover perfectly illustrates, the work is not descriptive. The composer even admits that it might have been titled “Music for Two Double Basses and Orchestra” which suggests that both soloists partake in the argument and never stand as outsiders competing with the orchestra. The work is in two movements of roughly equal length. The first is dark and brooding with some calmer or lighter episodes. The second is rather more animated, capricious and whimsical, with some slightly jazzy, dance-like episodes. The music briefly pauses in a cadenza of sorts before moving to its twilit coda. Skíma is a very fine piece, and a most worthy addition to the rather limited repertoire of works for two double basses and orchestra. The only one that I can think of, is Kevin Malone’s Eighteen Minutes (two double basses and strings) that has just come my way; it is available on Campion Cameo 2049, to be reviewed shortly.
 
These performances are simply superb. Sharon Bezaly plays marvellously throughout, and so do the bass players. All of them are splendidly supported by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra who are now making quite a reputation for themselves.
 
“ My music isn’t very avant-garde, really ... My aim is to create something that’s beautiful – something that has the power to touch an audience ... Some kind of magic ...” I fully agree with these words by the composer; but they should not assume that the music is easy or written-down in any way. Quite the contrary; most of it is fiendishly difficult, both for the soloists and the orchestra. It is painstakingly chiselled and great care in balance has to be taken for the music to make its full impact. In this respect, I think that these readings must have made the composer quite happy. In short, this is beautiful, accessible music that generously repays repeated hearings.
 
Hubert Culot
 



 


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