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Seen & Heard
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Haukur TÓMASSON (b.
Concerto No.1 for Flute and Orchestra (1997) [19:08]
Skíma (2001/2) [20:07]
Concerto No.2 for Flute and Orchestra (2001) [21:43]
Hávarđur Tryggvason, Valur Pálsson (double-basses, Skíma)
Iceland Symphony Orchestra/Bernarđur Wilkinson
rec. Háskolábíó, Reykjavík, Iceland, June 2004
BIS BIS-CD-1419 [62:18]
in his late forties, Tómasson has a substantial and varied
output to his credit, which has put him at the forefront
of Icelandic composers of his generation.
short opera Fjórđi söngur Guđrúnar (“Guđrún’s
Fourth Song”, 1994/6), available on BIS-CD-908, was awarded
the 2004 Nordic Council Music Prize. Several other works,
including his Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra,
are available on BIS-CD-1068, which I have yet to hear. Moreover,
the present recording of his Second Flute Concerto was released
some time ago as part of “Nordic
disc under review offers his two flute concertos as well
as Skíma for two double-basses and orchestra,
the most recent work here. The Concerto No.1 for Flute
and Orchestra is a substantial single movement work,
falling into eleven dissimilar sections (so says the composer).
They follow a fast-slow-fast model capped by a slow coda.
The work opens with a grumbling, insistent double-bass motif
paving the way for the first entry of the soloist. He jumps
into the picture with animated, florid lines that barely
slow, even when the orchestra seems to take a break. In the
beautifully atmospheric central section, the music becomes
more meditative, displaying a slightly oriental flavour.
The full orchestra creeps in with renewed energy, disrupting
the contemplative mood of the preceding section. The piece
ends with an appeased, shimmering coda of great sonic beauty.
No.2 for Flute and Orchestra is in five interrelated
movements sharing melodic material, thus emphasising
its symphonic structure while allowing for variety within
a globally unified context. The opening movement alternates
various moods. The second movement begins hesitantly
before launching a sort of moto perpetuo. The
ensuing Calmo is a beautiful nocturne in all but
name. It is capped by a more animated episode leading
straight into the fourth movement, a brilliant, light-footed
Scherzo of considerable virtuosity. The finale is for
the most part a long accompanied cadenza, the full orchestra
joining in late for the rather mysterious, inconclusive
Skíma (an Icelandic word meaning “a faint gleam of light”) was composed
for the present soloists, who are long-time friends of the
composer. It is for two double basses and orchestra, not
the easiest combination, which is why the second bass is
tuned a half-step higher. The orchestra dispenses with bass
instruments: no bassoons, horns, tuba or orchestral basses.
In spite of its title, which the beautiful picture adorning
the cover perfectly illustrates, the work is not descriptive.
The composer even admits that it might have been titled “Music
for Two Double Basses and Orchestra” which suggests that
both soloists partake in the argument and never stand as
outsiders competing with the orchestra. The work is in two
movements of roughly equal length. The first is dark and
brooding with some calmer or lighter episodes. The second
is rather more animated, capricious and whimsical, with some
slightly jazzy, dance-like episodes. The music briefly pauses
in a cadenza of sorts before moving to its twilit coda. Skíma is
a very fine piece, and a most worthy addition to the rather
limited repertoire of works for two double basses and orchestra.
The only one that I can think of, is Kevin Malone’s Eighteen
Minutes (two double basses and strings) that has
just come my way; it is available on Campion Cameo 2049,
to be reviewed shortly.
performances are simply superb. Sharon Bezaly plays marvellously
throughout, and so do the bass players. All of them are splendidly
supported by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra who are now making
quite a reputation for themselves.
music isn’t very avant-garde, really ... My aim is to create
something that’s beautiful – something that has the power
to touch an audience ... Some kind of magic ...” I fully
agree with these words by the composer; but they should not
assume that the music is easy or written-down in any way.
Quite the contrary; most of it is fiendishly difficult, both
for the soloists and the orchestra. It is painstakingly chiselled
and great care in balance has to be taken for the music to
make its full impact. In this respect, I think that these
readings must have made the composer quite happy. In short,
this is beautiful, accessible music that generously repays
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