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Hilmar Örn HILMARSSON (b. 1958)
Children of Nature (Börn Náttúrunnar)
Ars Moriendi ¹
Charon
Sudurgata ²
Farm ³
Snatis's Death
Journey
Escape
Coffin º
Ascension
Titles *
Aerophilia ª
Pretty Angels
All music composed, arranged and played by Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson with contributions from
Szymon Kuran, violin ¹ º *
Joolie Wood, violin ² ³
Stefán Örn Arnarson, cello ¹ *
Chhimed Rig'dzin Rinpoche, kangling, damaru ³
Sigtryggur Baldursson, percussion ª
Recorded at Studio S'yrland, Reykjavik (first issued in 1996).
TOUCH T33.14 [40.14]
I mentioned this marvellous disc in a recent review of another Touch release (Jóhann Jóhannsson's Englabörn) and here it is in a repackaged reissue. The music was written for Fridrik Thor Fridriksson's Oscar winning 1991 film Children of Nature and the score itself won the Felix Music Award that year. The film tells the story of an elderly couple escaping the confines(?) of Reykjavik to make an epic journey back to their old home in the stunning but often savage Icelandic rural landscape; the beautifully produced booklet features several stills from the visually stunning movie but do see it if you ever get the chance. Suffice to say that Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson's soundtrack lives up to its task admirably.

Hilmarsson is more recently known for his production work with Icelandic "avant electro-folk" group Sigur Rós and on Rímur (a new release on the Naxos World label) featuring Steindór Andersen's interpretations of a traditional form of narrative Icelandic epic song. However, on Children of Nature, he makes full use of keyboards, electronics and samplers, supplemented highly effectively by strings and percussion. The result, which he dedicated as a "commemoration of those I have loved and lost", is an accessible but profoundly moving set of short pieces which have a melancholic yet often uplifting feel to them. For those who insist on labels, this is superior soundtrack music rather than classical music per se but remains a firm favourite for me, seven years on from its first release.

The opening Ars Moriendi, with its violin and cello driven themes, later reprised in Titles, sets the scene for rest of the album perfectly. The keyboards and electronic effects are never used excessively and this music feels much more organic than synthetic, especially as there are plenty of sampled natural sounds, e.g. choirs. Sudurgata may be the best known track here as it has also appeared on one of the Touch samplers and it is a gorgeous fusion of yearning Bachian (or Pärtian?) violin melody and Nordic folk music - I never tire of hearing it and look forward to many more people hearing it through this timely reissue. On Farm, Hilmarsson introduces some oriental instrumentation alongside the violin, providing a slightly different, more dissonant take on the overall mood, followed by the brief Snatis's Death and the heavier more substantial Journey, in which a cavernous, echoing sound picture predominates. After the rhythmic interlude that is Escape, Coffin is less grim than its title suggests, some rather resigned organ sounds being kept afloat by bells and a gorgeous violin melody. Gregorian chant can be heard in parts of Ascension but it is interpolated so skilfully and unobtrusively that the crassness we often associate with this sort of melding of disparate musical elements is totally avoided. In Titles, the violin tune from the very opening of the disc makes its reappearance, and quite rightly so, given its sheer simple beauty. Aerophilia, as the title suggests, is the lightest piece on the disc and puts me in mind of Eric Serra's music to The Big Blue. The latter is meant as a complement and the score as a whole can stand against the very best film music anywhere as far as I am concerned. Here percussion underpins chiming, upwardly spiralling keyboard melodies leading us (relatively) light-heartedly into the climax of the record, the valedictory Pretty Angels which, in contrast to the preceding track, is rather more severe than we might have expected. It starts off like an orchestrated version of Joy Division (New Dawn Fades or The Eternal, something like that!) then develops into a tuneful, elegiac procession culminating in a glorious conclusion featuring organ and harpsichord.

So who should like and therefore buy this album? For starters, anyone who likes tuneful, melodic but serious modern music, e.g. ECM aficionados - Touch's production values echo that special label's and this music is not a million miles removed from the most recent inspirations of, say, Garbarek or Rypdal. Also, fans of superior soundtrack music (Bladerunner? Kitaro's Silk Road? Lord of the Rings?) are sure to respond positively to a significant voice in the genre. However, anybody who has any interest in any of the other artists, groups or composers mentioned above is bound to find something here for them too. In short, a record of wide appeal and hopefully, second time around, equivalent success. Of its kind, this is a truly great achievement, a stunning document I urge you to investigate immediately.

Obtainable direct from www.touch.demon.co.uk

Neil Horner



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