“Clockworking” = Works of several Icelandic composers – Nordic Affect (Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, v./Guðrun Hrund Harðardóttir, viola/Hanna Loftsdóttir, c./Guðrún Óskarsdóttir, harpsichord) – Sono Luminus

“Clockworking” = MARÍA HULD MARKAN SIGFÚSDÓTTIR: Clockworking; Sleeping Pendulum; HILDUR GUONADÓTTIR: 2 Circles; HAFDIS BJARNADÓTTIR: From Beacon to Beacon; THURÍDUR JÓNSDÓTTIR: Inni – Musica da Camera; ANNA THORVALDSDÓTTIR: Shades of Silence – Nordic Affect (Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, v./Guðrun Hrund Harðardóttir, viola/Hanna Loftsdóttir, c./Guðrún Óskarsdóttir, harpsichord) – Sono Luminus  SLE-70001, 44:31 (7/31/15) ***1/2:

This is by all accounts a refreshing, unusual and hypnotizing album. First, just for curiosity’s sake how can one resist the notion of a collection by all Icelandic female composers? If nothing else, these works prove how much really creative and high quality new music is coming out of the Nordic regions these days; certainly Scandinavia (Finland in particular) and with Iceland being the biggest pleasant surprise.

The only name here I knew from prior, very fine works was Anna Thorvaldsdóttir. Her contribution to this collection, Shades of Silence, is characteristically mysterious, a bit dark and mostly a quiet – though somewhat unsettling – journey. There are several recordings of her music out there and she becoming a name you should know!

I personally found the music of Maria Sigfúsdóttir to be the most rewarding new discovery. Her title track, Clockworking, is a beautiful and reflective work that is a sort of study of rhythm and metronomic repetition in both the mechanical world as well as that of the human organism. Likewise, her Sleeping Pendulum is a sort of sonic ‘view from above’ as the composer flew over the fjords and the geologic wonder, the volcano Eyjafjallajökull.

2 Circles by Hafdis Guðadóttir is a fascinating work for solo violin including some sung passages by the performer, creating two ‘circles’ or sources of sound that interact. The Inni – Musica da Camera by Thurídur Jónsdóttir exists in a similar plane where the soloist plays against the recorded sound of a baby murmuring (“Inni” being “inside” in Icelandic.) Both are very interesting, albeit fairly abstract, works requiring some very fine violin work.

The one work here that I must admit did not really ‘grab’ me was From Beacon to Beacon by Hafdis Bjarnadóttir. The idea here is the use of the chamber quartet against some electronically processed sounds of the weather around a lighthouse in summer and in winter; depicting the dramatic turns that the sea near the Arctic can produce. I felt the work began promisingly enough, with a rumble sounding nearly like an earthquake (and a good stereo test I might add) but unfortunately the textures, sounds and harpsichord utterances give the work almost a ‘hokey’ creepy sound like background music in a horror movie. Just my reaction.

Lastly, the all-female quartet Nordic Affect is a brilliant and unusual ensemble. Each of the ladies plays a ‘period’ instrument and three strings plus harpsichord ordinarily conjures up the sounds of the early Baroque, like Couperin et al. These talented performers show here what a wide range of music they – and their instruments – can play. The sonic quality of Sono Luminus releases continues to impress me.

—Daniel Coombs

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