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Piano Music by Icelandic Composers
Þorkell SIGURBJÖRNSSON (b. 1938) Hans-Variationen [12:21]
Jóhann G. JÓHANNSSON (b. 1947) Ég er að tala um þig [5:07]
Atli INGÓLFSSON (b. 1962) …ma la melodia [4:29]
Haukur TÓMASSON (b. 1960) Brotnir Hljómar [7:14]
Atli Heimir SVEINSSON (b. 1938) Óður Steinsins Nr. IV [3:58; Af hreinu hjarta [2:38; Albumblatt an Susanne Kessel [1:38]
Victor URBANCIC (1903–1958) Caprices Mignons über ein Kinderlied [7:41]
Jórunn VIÐAR (b. 1918) Meditationen über isländische Volksthemen (No. 1 & No. 4) [5:20]
Hafliði HALLGRÍMSSON (b. 1941) Lullaby on a Winters´ Night [3:04]
Páll ÍSÓLFSSON (1893–1974) Impromptu [2:44]
Sveinbjörn SVEINBJÖRNSSON (1847–1927) Vikivaki [2:26]
Árni EGILSSON (b. 1939) Borealis [5:24]
Jón LEIFS (1899–1968) Rímnadanslög op. 11 No. 3 [3:06; Rímnadanslög op. 11 No. 2 [2:44; Rímnadanslög op. 11 No. 4 [1:57]
BJÖRK (b. 1965)/Leon MILO (b. 1956) I Miss You (Transcription for Piano and Electronics) [4:43]
Susanne Kessel (piano)
rec. no details provided
Experience Classicsonline


There should be more selections like this. They serve to ring the changes and in fairness the small to middle sized companies are delivering these collections. All credit though to Oehms and Susanne Kessel for collaborating over this project. It freeboots open-mindedly across styles.

Sigurbjörnsson studied piano and composition in Iceland and in the USA; latterly with Kenneth Gaburo and Lejaren Hiller. He also attended Darmstadt but seems to have emerged unscathed. His opera Grettir featured in the 2004 Bayreuth Festival. The Hans-Variationen are dedicated to the pianist Hans Pálsson. While not immune from dissonance these variations move between angularity and fracture towards Sigurbjörnsson’s true north: a Grieg-like devotion to folkdance and folksong. Jóhann G. Jóhannsson is active in the Iceland media and his Ég er að tala um þig sings with a modern populist sentimental touch. Atli Ingólfsson studied classical guitar, theory, composition and philosophy in Iceland. The …ma la melodia moves in dark paths but emerges from them in a consciously romantic troubled vein somewhere between Grieg and Rachmaninov. Tómasson takes us back to dissonance and fracture with a stony vibrancy imposed on a Ravel-like apparatus. Atli Heimir Sveinsson studied composition with Bernd Alois Zimmermann. He has been a force recognised within Iceland for his advocacy of European contemporary serious music. His Oþur Steinsins series comprises thirty short pieces. No. IV is a tentative serenade seemingly wending its way through a mysterious landscape. Af hreinu hjarta is a dark and very slow waltz – very beguiling. Albumblatt was written for Kessel and is a machine-gun tirade of notes with a fine patina of dissonance – minimalism with teeth. Vienna was the scene of Urbancic’s upbringing. His career was terminated by Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. He left Austria because his wife was Jewish and found his way to Iceland where he taught theory, piano, composition and music history. The duet Brüderlein komm tanz mit mir from Hänsel und Gretel by Humperdinck is the theme of the Caprices Mignons über ein Kinderlied. Here the style is more consciously innocent, elegant-clever and, yes, Viennese. Viðar studied piano in Reykjavík and then in Berlin. Vittorio Giannini was her teacher at the Juilliard (1943-5). The Four Meditations on Icelandic Folk Themes are popular in Iceland. Meditation No. 1 is a folksy-dissonant caprice while No. 4 is more turbulently romantic, tortured and swirling. Hallgrímsson studied composition with Alan Bush and Peter Maxwell Davies. He settled in Scotland and a number of CDs of his music have been issued. Lullaby on a Winter’s Night is grand and cold, providing a representation of the grievous shiver of an Icelandic night but in an accessibly dissonant impressionistic slow-motion spray. Ísólfsson studied composition with Max Reger. He composed in the style of the golden-age romantics. His short Impromptu in D Minor seemingly quotes his own Piano Concerto (has that been recorded?) and is in his accustomed retrospective romantic style encompassing Schumann, Liszt and Brahms. Sveinbjörnsson is the oldest composer represented. His Vikivaki refers to a 17th century wild Icelandic dance. So wild was it that it was banned by the Church. In Sveinbjörnsson’s case the dance is tricked out with the usual apparatus of romanticism although more Brahms-Liszt than anything from later generations. Egilsson, a double-bassist, was brought to the United States by Barbirolli to play with the Houston Symphony. He became much in demand in the Hollywood studio orchestras. Rather like the Hallgrímsson piece his Borealis conveys an impressive sound-portrait of the Icelandic winter night and the supernatural shifting melting colours of the aurora borealis – a phenomenon which also attracted Tubin in his Sixth Symphony. Rather like Tubin the music that emerges has a dangerous edge and a sense of awe and latent catastrophe. Leifs is well known from his Bis discs. He found inspiration and material in folk songs, the "Rímur" and the medieval "Tvisöngur". Rímnadanslög are dances based on the Rímur, a rhyming tradition delivered in something approaching sprechgesang. The three pieces from op. 11 sound like the equivalent folk-inflected pieces by Grieg and by later generations. They are not immune from lissom sentiment and chiming innocence. There are none of Leifs’ accustomed coruscations or explosions. Björk Guðmundsdóttir – better known as Björk – is well known internationally. Leon Milo, who works with Kessel in the piano-duo "Pianowaves" has transcribed Björk’s song I Miss You, for piano and electronics. The result is a chiming, ear-caressing fantasy which ripples and tickles in a deliciously awkward progress. It forms a delightful and inventively dissonant encore cut about with minimalist rhythmic excitements.

A provocative, accessible, well annotated and far from facile anthology. It would be good to hear further examples and in particular to catch up with the more extended and ambitious works of Ísólfsson, Milo and Sveinbjörnsson.

Rob Barnett



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