Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Jón LEIFS (1899-1968)
Geysir (1961) [9.46]
Trilogia Piccola (1920-24) [11.50]
Trois peintures abstraites (1955) [5.52]
Icelandic Folk Dances (1929-31) [12.25]
Overture to Loftur (1927) [7.33]
Consolation - Intermezzo for string orchestra (1968) [6.20]
Iceland SO/Osmo Vänskä
rec Reykjavik, 19-21 June 1996 DDD
BIS-CD-830 [55.35]
  AmazonUK   AmazonUS
 Amazon recommendations

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 string writing.

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 Terrible.

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 Leifs.

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.

Rob Barnett

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: