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Atli Heimir SVEINSSON (b. 1938)
Tíminn og Vatnið - Time and Water (1981-83)
Marta G. Halldórsdóttir (sop)
Sverrir Gudjónsson (counter-tenor)
Bergþór Pálsson (bar)
Kammersveit Reykjavíkur and Kór/Paul Zukofsky
rec 12-16 June 1994, Langholtskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland. DDD
CPO 999 865-2
[2 CDs: 148.25]


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Sveinsson is an accessible modernist although he is undogmatically free about deploying techniques garnered from the 1970s avant-garde. The choral writing is straight out of Ligeti but mixed with the mulch of Cornelius Cardew and Edgard Varèse. The solo singing takes heart from Schoenberg's way with voices in Jacob's Ladder. The orchestra often flies off into a turmoil of ecstasy and stinging impacts. The turmoil is a rich and fragrant broth which often suggests Messiaen.

There is a whirlpool of variety in this music. In the penultimate movement there are two accordions along with the orchestra. There is a police siren in Wave breaking; time is held Blue-bird still in Intermezzi III and VIII and that effect is even discernible in Your face dwells. A hail of Gamelan patter melds with the trouvère style of the Court of Eleanour of Aquitaine in Water flowing. In Intermezzo VII there are suggestions of the styles of Valentin Silvestrov and of the thorniest style of Michael Tippett. Henze was presumably the pattern for And the dome of my happiness just as Susato and the Danserye echo through Under the Thawing time mountain. Two dark-red fish revels in the same charnel fairground as late Shostakovich. Delicacy of a Webernian stamp is common throughout the forty movements. This is striking in the wispy The imagined brightness which also looks back to Schoenberg's Farben. I can see Intermezzi XIX finding a place in the affections of solo flautists - the piece is only one minute long.

The pattern of this ambitious cycle, which runs for almost two and a half hours, is easily grasped. There are forty movements alternating instrumental Intermezzi (twenty of them) with twenty pieces for voice. The movement titles are listed at the end of this review. Each of the forty movements is for a different permutation of voices or instruments (including electronic keyboards) or both. The brilliance of the trumpetry of Eiríkur Orn Pálsson and Jóhann Yngvi Stefánsson in Intermezzo XIII should not pass without notice.

There are some extraordinary moments in this music. The sinister and oleaginous The white brightness is worth sampling. Similarly, at the risk of 'cheating' try the fortieth movement (Flowing water) - a sort of summation in which suggestions of Allegri's Miserere, quiet choral glissandi and prayerful ‘sprechgesang’ seem to meet and illuminate the mysteries of nature and life. Wordsworth's 'immortal sea' is manifest in the philosophical cradling that gently plays out this strong work.

The texts are printed in the booklet in the original Icelandic of Stein Steinarr and in flanking translations into German and English. The musical and poetic schema rotates around the losing of self into landscape, water, rock, soil.

This is all performed with commitment and creative energy. The recording is uncompromisingly virile placing the listener close to the instruments and singers. The rim-shots and even the triangle impacts will give your ears and your stereo a dramatic workout. Those not allergic to the names quoted above should be on safe enough ground. Once you are in Sveinsson's 'groove' you will find a universe of variety and stimulation here.

This is for moderately broad-minded listeners who do not object to avant-garde styles freely juxtaposed with intimations of nature and eternity.

Rob Barnett



CD1 [74.51]

Time and Water - soli, chorus, orchestra

Intermezzo I - winds, percussion
The Sun - sop, chorus, orchestra
Intermezzo II - guitars
On transparent wings - sop, bar, chorus, orchestra
Intermezzo III - chorus a cappella - wordless
Wave breaking - chorus, orchestra
Intermezzo IV - unison chorus - wordless
Water flowing - bar, guitar quartet
Intermezzo V - violin solo
I was a nodded head - counter-tenor
Intermezzo VI - clarinet solo, cymbals, gongs
Heaven rains for me - chorus for male voices
Intermezzo VII - harpsichord and percussion
The beating of unseen wings - counter-tenor and baritone
Intermezzo VIII - chorus without words
A net to catch the wind - sop and c-tenor
Intermezzo IX - saxophone percussion
From my consciousness - bar, guitars, gongs
Intermezzo X - two pianos
And the dome of my happiness - soli, speaker, perc
Intermezzo XI - string sextet
CD2 [73.34]
Like horses with bloody irons - soli, brass
Intermezzo XII - elec organ, drums
The blue rain of fan winged days - soli trio
Intermezzo XIII - trumpet duo
The sunshine - soli, perc
Intermezzo XIV - cl, sax, drums
Your face dwells - soli trio
Intermezzo XV - brass, bass-drum
Under the thawing time mountain - soli, ch and drums
Intermezzo XVI - harp, string pizz, drums
The white brightness - bar, cl, guitars, perc
Intermezzo XVII - guitar quartet
Two dark red fish - sop, perc, piano, brass
Intermezzo XVIII - dance guitars
The imagined brightness - bar, sax, guitars
Intermezzo XIX - flute solo
Silence flows - c-tenor cello
Intermezzo XX - two accordions
Flowing water - soli, chorus, orch

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