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ANNA THORVALDSDOTTIR: “In the Light of Air” = Luminance; Serenity; Existence; Remembrance; Transitions – ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) /Anna Thorvaldsdottir – Sono Luminus (audio-only Blu-ray + CD)

ANNA THORVALDSDOTTIR: “In the Light of Air” = Luminance; Serenity; Existence; Remembrance; Transitions – ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble)/Anna Thorvaldsdottir – Sono Luminus DSL-92192, 47:51 (CD + audio-only Blu-ray – 5.1 DTS) (8/28/15) ****:

Anna Thorvaldsdottir is an emerging star in the “new music” or contemporary classical scene, as her recent stay with the New York Philharmonic as a resident composer indicates. I have heard many of her pieces and like them all but this album may be favorite yet. This collection of works for viola, cello, harp, piano, percussion and electronics is simply atmospheric.

In the Light of Air is actually a tetralogy of works that together form a unified structure. The four main movements are titled Luminance, Serenity, Existence and Remembrance, and are connected by transitions to form a seamless flow throughout the work. The individual pieces which makeup the total work flow from one movement to the next through a subtle array of sound materials and harmonies. The short – but tangible – bits of melody are generated as much by sounds, gestures and nuances within the whole as by any written pitched lyrical material.

Something I found particularly interesting is that Anna includes the sounds of some metallic ornaments, designed herself, that are used in a solo in the percussion part in Remembrance. The ornaments, called Klakabönd in Icelandic (which translates as “a bind of ice”), were created by artist Svana Jósepsdóttir. Parts of Remembrance also echoes a melody of a song that Anna’s husband – Hrafn – wrote and dedicated to her in 2000.

I deeply enjoyed each of the pieces or movements that constitute In the Light of Air but, in particular, Remembrance and its antecedent, Existence. In the Light of Air was written for the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) in 2013/2014 as part of their “ICElab”.

Transitions, the closing piece, was written for cellist Michael Nicolas in 2014. The theme of the work is ‘man & machine’, and is represented in that the cellist becomes both in the piece – man & machine. Man indicates the expression and emotion, and machine indicates maximal technical accuracy, a somewhat stricter approach to the music (per the composer’s notes). This is easily perceived in the difficulty of this piece, handled with dexterity by the amazing Nicholas.

I think anyone who appreciates the new breed of “contemporary” composers would greatly enjoy the work of Anna Thorvaldsdottir. She also happens to be perhaps the biggest ‘rising star’ of a group of young, talented composers from this region of the world – Iceland – that, even twenty years ago we would not have thought of. This music beautifully blurs the stylistic divide between categories that many listeners will regard as ‘ambient’, ‘minimal’ and ‘new music.’ Anna’s work is wonderful and worth exploring.

The sound quality from Sono Luminus – especially on the Blu-ray audio disc – is clear, resonant and beautiful as always. Highly recommended!

—Daniel Coombs

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