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Jón LEIFS (1899-1968)
Edda Part 1: Sköpun heimsins (The Creation of the World) – oratorio for tenor, bass-baritone, chorus and orchestra (1932-37)
Gunnar Guđbjörnsson (tenor)
Bjarni Thor Kristinsson (bass-baritone)
Stefán Jón Bernharđsson; Ţorkell Jóelsson; Eiríkur Örn Pálsson; Guđmundur Hafsteinsson (lur)
Eggert Pálsson (bagpipes)
Dađi Kolbeinsson (ocarina)
Douglas Brotchie (organ)
Schola Cantorum/Hörđur Áskelsson
Iceland Symphony Orchestra/Hermann Bäumer
rec. October 2006, Hallgrim’s Church, Reykjavik, Iceland. DDD
notes in Eng Icelandic German French
sung text in Icelandic and English
Full tracklisting at end of review
BIS BIS-SACD-1350 [75:39]
Experience Classicsonline

Leifs' Edda is here represented by its epic first part: no less than The Creation of the World. The Edda, in full, was intended to be a four-part construct: The Creation of the World; The Lives of the Gods; Twilight; Resurrection. Part 1 as featured here is in thirteen separately-tracked episodes. It was written between 1932 and 1937. Edda 2 was completed in May 1966 and Edda 3 was unfinished.
 
Its style bears no comparison with that of Wagner's tetralogy. The parallel is only prompted by the many years he spent in Germany and his Icelandic saga subject matter. In this connection listeners may recall his Saga Symphony – also recorded by BIS. It too uses the Lur - a long horn perhaps comparable in appearance and size to the Alpenhorn. The percussion includes the clashing of boulders.
 
Leifs language in Edda I is the usual very idiosyncratic modernised blend of laconic Beethovenian protest and gentle poetry – almost Grieg-like in this last aspect. The result is part awkward and part Egmont-magnificent. Mix this with choral writing that is often evocative of the Scandinavian ecstasy of the high places (tr. 2) and you have a potent and unforgettable mix. The boulder-heavy, grunting and emphatic language is typical of this composer but impressive and moving. Leifs’ writing has a stark and brazen power often characterised by stomping off-rhythm thunder-flash chords for brass and percussion as in Hekla. Ultimately this composer is sui generis yet the choral writing can remind you of a later and now increasingly popular composer Veljo Tormis (b. 1930). It has a raw, pristine and timeless quality: the rocks and earth sing. On at least one occasion I thought while listening to this grand but gawky epic of the ululating alleluias of the finale of Hilding Rosenberg Fourth Symphony Johannes Uppenbarelse and of Christopher Brown’s still sadly unrecorded Hodie Salvator Apparuit.
 
The devotion of BIS to Leifs is sustained and unblinkingly serious. His music is fully deserving of such commitment which again is reflected in the Swedish company’s fully detailed liner-notes. I will be very pleased indeed if BIS record the surviving parts of the Edda cycle – splendid in its craggy and intensely individual lyricism and magnificence.
 
Rob Barnett
 
Full tracklisting
Jón Leifs: Edda, Part 1: Sköpun heimsins (The Creation of the World)  
1. I. Ár var alda (Young Were the Years) [4:19]
2. II. Ýmir (Ymir) [7:22]
3. III. Ţursa ţjóđar sjöt (The Giants’ Palace) [2:53]
4. IV. Auđhumla, Óđinn ok hans brćđr (Audhumla, Odin and his Brothers) [2:54]
5. V. Sćr (Sea) [2:36]
6. VI. Jörđ (Earth) [2:27]
7. VII. Himinn, sól, dagr (Sky, Sun, Day) [10:21]
8. VIII. Nótt, morgunn (Night, Morning) [19:17]
9. IX. Ásgarđr, Askr ok Embla, Miđgarđr (Asgard, Ash and Embla, Midgard) [3:36]
10. X. Scherzo. Allir menn urđut jafnspakir (All Men Aren’t Equally Wise) [3:21]
11. XI. Viđr, sumar, logn (Wood, Summer, Calm) [7:59]
12. XII. Vetr ok vindr (Winter and Wind) [2:35]
13. XIII. Finale. Ífing, níu heimar (Ifing, Nine Worlds) [4:44]

 


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