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Bára GRIMSDÓTTIR (b.1960)
Virgo Gloriosa

My soul is beset with woes [4.42]
Ad beatam virginem [21.17]
Mary, maiden glorious [6.56]
Mary, the Lord God’s lily [4.54]
I will praise her and laud [3.36]
In memoriam piissimae matronae [19.32]
Hljómeyki Chamber Choir/Bernard Wilkinson
Recorded at Skálholt Church, Iceland January 2001
Smekkleysa Records SMK 23 [50.31]

 

I approached this disc intrigued at the prospect of discovering the work of an Icelandic composer, not only with genuine interest but because I am about to conduct opera in that, to me totally unfamiliar, country with an indigenous cast and orchestra. Bára Grimsdóttir took advanced studies in composition in Holland with Tristan Keuris and Louis Andriessen, then became a teacher and conductor of vocal groups. She then moved to the Westman Islands, south of mainland Iceland, where she pursued a similar combination of activity as well as singing herself. She was steeped in the Icelandic verse-chanting tradition from early childhood and now sings all over Europe in a small vocal ensemble Embla, or as a duo with guitarist Chris Foster. Clearly from the music here, she has a penchant for popular and folk music of her own land. About 1980 she was given a book of Icelandic poetry ranging from Medieval times to the Reformation, and despite her initial good intentions to use it as source material for setting to music, it was a further seventeen years before they came to fruition. The twenty-voice chamber choir Hljómeyki commissioned ‘Ad beatam virginem’ for performance at the Skálholt Summer Concert Series, and for the Festivals of 1998 and 2000 she became its resident composer. The work was an instant success, and, judging from this fine performance, understandably so. The singing in this and the other works (in particular the last two tracks) is first-class, meticulously detailed in its refined phrasing, disciplined ensemble and careful balance. Bára Grimsdóttir is an imaginatively skilled craftsman when it comes to writing for the voice, the music is hauntingly beautiful in its mix of modern and ancient harmonies and rhythms, and her clearly defined love for her selected texts is reflected in the stunning result. I cannot recommend this disc too highly, and it makes me want to hear more of her work.

Christopher Fifield

 

 



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