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Polarinn JONSSON (1900 - 1974)
Prelude and Double fugue on the Name B-A-C-H (1927)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)

Sonata No. 1 in G Minor BWV 1001 for solo violin (1720)
Hallgrimur HELGASON (1914 - 1994)

Sonata for solo violin (1972)
Haflioi HALGRIMSSON (b.1941)

Offerto – In memory of Karl Kvaran (1991)
Gudny Gudmundsdottir (violin)
recorded in Seltjarnarneskirkja, Iceland, 20 – 24 September 1999. DDD
POLARFONIA CLASSICS PFCD 02.04.007 [67’22"]


This disc is a showcase for one of Iceland’s premier violinists, and allows us to hear familiar and not so familiar repertoire, recorded in a very sympathetic acoustic.

Gudny Gudmundsdottir (born 1948 in Reykjavik), was trained at the Reykjavik College of Music, earned a Bachelor’s Degree at the Eastman School of Music, New York, a diploma from the Royal College of Music (London) and a Master’s Degree at the Juillard Music School, New York.

She became leader of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in 1974, succeeding her teacher Bjorn Olafsson, and began a double career of violinist and teacher at Reykjavik School of Music. In addition, she has appeared all as soloist in Israel, Japan, China, Hong Kong, as well as the Nordic countries.

She has been invited and has appeared at many U.S. summer festivals, and so has already had a long and prominent life as a soloist, orchestral player and teacher.

With a pedigree such as this one might expect a far more than competent musician at the helm, and this is precisely what we have here on this disc.

The best well known work on this disc is the Bach Sonata No.1, and whilst one could experience a deeper interpretation from a Milstein or a Grumiaux, what we have here is far better than I expected when I first started listening.

There are none of the scrapes and extraneous fingerboard noises which I find distracting, nor is there any heavy breathing, (equally disconcerting). We have an extremely well played work recorded in a lovely acoustic on a first class instrument (the violin used here is a 1728 "del Gesu" Guarnerius). What more could one want?

Instead of more Bach, we are treated to three solo violin pieces written by contemporary Icelandic composers. The Hallgrimsson does sound what most of us would consider ‘contemporary’. The Jonsson and Helgason pieces do not sound as modern as the Hallgrimsson. Indeed when first listening superficially to the Jonsson work something more late 19th century came to mind rather than 1927, the actual year of its composition. According to the soloist, it was influenced by Max Reger, and was not too easy to play, particularly the double fugue with which it ends.

The second new work presented here (Helgason) has more of an Icelandic quality about the writing, quoting Icelandic folksongs as it does. Formerly not well known, it is now being adopted by more Icelandic composers so it may become more widely known. I hope so.

Finally we come to Halgrimsson’s "Offerto" which was written in 1991 for Gudmundsdottir. It is a highly personal work, commemorating a close friend’s death. The friend was the Icelandic artist Karl Kvaran.

There are four movements to this work: "Written in Sand", imagines the composer writing the name of his friend in the sand. The wind then makes this writing disappear. "Lines without Words" conjures up the spirit of the artist’s style of painting in sound. "Time’s Flight" concerns itself with how time is relative and how quickly it passes by. This movement is the most technically demanding on the disc, and Gudmundsdottir makes relatively light work of it. The last movement is entitled "Almost a Hymn", and this is the real memorial elegy to the artist.

The soloist was helped by the composer to understand the thought processes and to spend as much time as was necessary with him to make these performances as telling as they are. The one disappointment with this work is the unavailability of the paintings in the booklet to give us an idea of what was being represented in sound.

This has been an extremely interesting disc to review, and I recommend it heartily.

John Phillips

 

 



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