Geysir is part of the cycle of nature sound-images which also
includes Dettifoss and Hekla. It is designated a 'Prelude for
orchestra' and is heavy with portentous bass pedal points. These 'brew' tension
ready for the explosion of energy - the superheated spout of water gasping
and shreiking skywards. It is a most vivid piece - not at all rich in themes.
Instead we hear a series of effects sustained at climax for longer than the
phenomenon itself. It is as if Leifs holds, slows and magnifies the experience
of the great uprush of steam and water. This would prove an arresting concert
opener and although the bass pedal might suggest to the innocent the start
of Also Sprach Zarathustra the remainder is a closer relative to
Nystroem's and Sibelius's preludes to The Tempest - stormy onomatopoeia
- rather than storms of the human psyche. Once again if one must find parallels
(and I always try to no matter how strained) I would point to Roy Harris's
The early Trilogia Piccola is in three sections and its title
should not mislead you into expecting a light repast. The Praeludium is
pregnant with doom-laden tension as if Leifs strode out from the drums of
Brahms' First Symphony into an alien landscape. At this stage in his career
Leifs betrays the influence of Nielsen. The Bergian coolness of the
Intermezzo soon gives place to the tension of the Praeludium
while the 2 minute finale is in the character of a wild and woolly fugue
predicting the unleashing of Hekla and Geysir but crossed with
the urbanity and sardonic manner of Weill.
Thirty years onwards and safe in Iceland, Leifs, still licking his wounds
from allegations of Nazi sympathies, while in Germany, come the Three
Abstract Paintings. These fan the early kindling provided
by the terse springy expressivity of the 1960s; fusion, explosive and flickering,
rattling and shock spattered - a Nordic Ruggles perhaps! Roy Harris is surely,
yet once more, an influence in the Klettar movement.
After all this irony and sparseness the Icelandic Folk Dances
are a relaxation. This is not quite Malcolm Arnold but is not far
off, at moments. As an illustration take the dainty allegretto which
later collects itself for a steel-shod clog dance. Daintiness and a
quasi-Hispanic courtly air are to be found in the Tempo Giusto; almost
Tippett arranging Dowland. The slam-hammer Allegro moderato crashes
and galumphs, but never losing sight of courtly gallantry. Much the same
applies to the Allegro vivace. Leopold Weninger collaborated with
Leifs in these orchestral arrangements.
The Loftr Overture shows signs of the stern individuality of
his later years but impresses for its humanity as well as its effects. This
psychological portrait is as accomplished at dissectng motivation, vanity,
weakness and fury as Walton's Hamlet and Prokofiev's Ivan the
Any piece called Consolation for string orchestra prepares
us for Griegian regret. This is undoubtedly cool and its subtle turns dream
dreams from Sibelius's Fourth Symphony. Leifs' trademark wandering string
themes are fully engaged and they are as much of a genetic fingerprint as
Martinu's plangent lyricism and Vaughan Williams' transcendental string writing.
This six minute reflection would make an easy entré to the world of
It will not be long before you come to recognise Leifs' stock in trade. Here
is a composer in no danger of being lost in the crowd once his music is heard.
Congratulations to BIS for banding long silences between the pieces. So few
companies take this trouble.
Surely it is not mere coincidence but both Vänskä-conducted Leifs
discs have notes by Hjälmar H Ragnarsson
This is highly recommendable in its own right but also as a Leifs taster
for the wee timorous ones - as are most of us when exploring this far afield.