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Can you hear a country in its music? I posed that question only a few years ago, while contemplating the five recent
orchestral works by leading young Icelandic composers that comprised Recurrence, the previous volume of this invaluable, illuminating Sono Luminus series. Pondering those pieces with a visit to Iceland still vivid in my mind’s eye, I likened aspects of the music at hand to elements of land and sky, climate and atmosphere—an approach not without merit, but surely not the sole dimension worth contemplating.
Two of the composers featured on that previous CD are also present in this second collection, Concurrence. Hearing Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Metacosmos and María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir’s Oceans in close proximity, it’s hard not to consider once more the natural features of Iceland. But before you decide to approach these disparate works as paintings in sound, listen again for aspects that distinctly evoke more human dimensions .
Thorvaldsdottir, advising performers on how to approach Metacosmos, describes her music as “an ecosystem of materials that are carried from one performer – or performers – to the next throughout the process of the work.” The piece isn’t meant to depict some specific vista, but rather to compel its participants – listeners included – to contemplate the myriad interrelations that bind us together, in space and through time. Oceans, with its gently gliding movements and ravishing plays of light and color, conjures visions of the natural world. But there’s also something ineffably human, emotional, and personal in its cinematic swells and haunting suspensions. In both pieces, despite their markedly different aspects and approaches, the sensation of a beating heart is at some point inescapable.
Ideas of human presence, interrelationship, and community come to the fore in works by Haukur Tómasson and Páll Ragnar Pálsson. Each is a concerto – one in name; both in function and spirit – yet in neither do we hear emphasized the “individual acting within (or railing against) society” dialectic encountered commonly in the historic genre.
In Tómasson’s Piano Concerto No. 2, the soloist is first among equals, a frolicsome force in continual conversation with lively choruses of counterparts, never overshadowed but also rarely isolated. The solo cello is more prominent, perhaps, in Pálsson’s Quake, but not in the sense of a single orator foregrounded against a complementary background. Rather, amid the work’s deliberate, effective tectonic judders and jolts, the soloist might well be… well, us, responding with panic and adroitness to keep pace with the rumbling, mysterious tumult all around.
Concurrence, then, points out something fundamental about Icelandic music. Works like those presented here, in magnificent performances by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, are not merely illustrative of a fascinating, singular ecosystem, but also evoke the relationships that bond this island- nation’s inhabitants to the land, its sky, its weather—and to one another. – Steve Smith