REVIEWS

These works are finely heard out, never provokingly experimental and always fascinating in their color combinations without foreignizing the customary treatment of the instruments. The Hyperion Trio enlists itself carefully and sensitively in the cause of Sveinsson’s music.
Klassik heute, January 2010


Atli Heimir Sveinsson Pianó tríó 1-3The Hyperion Trio attentively holds together the bizarre micromotifs. Those who imagine Iceland’s geysers and glaciers while listening to these piano trios by Atli Heimir Sveinsson have probably not been fantasizing but are reacting as they should to the clear interpretations by the Hyperion Trio.
Ensemble Mars 2010. 


jan12_coverFrost-cold shadows between sleep and dream, focused in the voices of baritone, saxophone and guitar; a countertenor’s voice imagining life-like a round coin set on edge: these fugitive images, precisely and fleetingly incarnated in sound, form part of the world of Atli Heimir Sveinsson. One of Iceland’s most prolific and highly respected composers, he was born in 1938, and trained in those heady post-independence days when professional musical life on the North Atlantic island was making rapid strides forward. And this is Time and Water, Atli Heimir’s ‘ballet-oratorio’, a real one-off within his extensive and eclectic oeuvre: a suite of settings of the poetry of Iceland’s early 20th-century modernist, Steinn Steinarr, interspersed with pungent instrumental interludes. At two and a half hours, it’s a long stream-of-consciousness of a listen – and you need to pace yourself. But, with the Reykjavik Chamber Orchestra and Chorus superbly controlled by Paul Zukofsky, and joined by some of the hottest vocal properties on the island, it’s a mesmeric and cumulatively enriching experience. Atli Heimir, like most of his compatriots, studied in Germany and in the States, then returned to be one of the many one-man-bands of composition, academe and administration in Iceland’s musical life. His scores can sometimes sound like a compendium of 20th-century musical practice; but here we tune into his own distinctive voice and highly refined aural imagination. Instrumentation is spare, vocal writing varied, often florid – and constantly compelling in the voices of the fine countertenor Sverrir Gudjónsson, soprano Marta Halldórsdóttir and baritone Bergthór Pálsson.

Hilary Finch BBC Music Magazine, January 2012

timinnogvatnidSveinsson is an accessible modernist although he is undogmatically free about deploying techniques garnered from the 1970s avant-garde. The choral writing is straight out of Ligeti but mixed with the mulch of Cornelius Cardew and Edgard Varèse. The solo singing takes heart from Schoenberg’s way with voices in Jacob’s Ladder. The orchestra often flies off into a turmoil of ecstasy and stinging impacts. The turmoil is a rich and fragrant broth which often suggests Messiaen.

There is a whirlpool of variety in this music. In the penultimate movement there are two accordions along with the orchestra. There is a police siren in Wave breaking; time is held Blue-bird still in Intermezzi III and VIII and that effect is even discernible in Your face dwells. A hail of Gamelan patter melds with the trouvère style of the Court of Eleanour of Aquitaine in Water flowing. In Intermezzo VII there are suggestions of the styles of Valentin Silvestrov and of the thorniest style of Michael Tippett. Henze was presumably the pattern for And the dome of my happiness just as Susato and the Danserye echo through Under the Thawing time mountain. Two dark-red fish revels in the same charnel fairground as late Shostakovich. Delicacy of a Webernian stamp is common throughout the forty movements. This is striking in the wispy The imagined brightness which also looks back to Schoenberg’s Farben. I can see Intermezzi XIX finding a place in the affections of solo flautists – the piece is only one minute long.

The pattern of this ambitious cycle, which runs for almost two and a half hours, is easily grasped. There are forty movements alternating instrumental Intermezzi (twenty of them) with twenty pieces for voice. The movement titles are listed at the end of this review. Each of the forty movements is for a different permutation of voices or instruments (including electronic keyboards) or both. The brilliance of the trumpetry of Eiríkur Orn Pálsson and Jóhann Yngvi Stefánsson in Intermezzo XIII should not pass without notice.

quiet choral glissandi and prayerful ‘sprechgesang’ seem to meet and illuminate the mysteries of nature and life

There are some extraordinary moments in this music. The sinister and oleaginous The white brightness is worth sampling. Similarly, at the risk of ‘cheating’ try the fortieth movement (Flowing water) – a sort of summation in which suggestions of Allegri’s Miserere, quiet choral glissandi and prayerful ‘sprechgesang’ seem to meet and illuminate the mysteries of nature and life. Wordsworth’s ‘immortal sea’ is manifest in the philosophical cradling that gently plays out this strong work.

The texts are printed in the booklet in the original Icelandic of Stein Steinarr and in flanking translations into German and English. The musical and poetic schema rotates around the losing of self into landscape, water, rock, soil.

This is all performed with commitment and creative energy. The recording is uncompromisingly virile placing the listener close to the instruments and singers. The rim-shots and even the triangle impacts will give your ears and your stereo a dramatic workout. Those not allergic to the names quoted above should be on safe enough ground. Once you are in Sveinsson’s ‘groove’ you will find a universe of variety and stimulation here.

This is for moderately broad-minded listeners who do not object to avant-garde styles freely juxtaposed with intimations of nature and eternity.
Rob Barnett, Musicweb-international.com Time and Water – soli, chorus, orchestra

Atli Heimir’s multi-genre, vigorous and virtuosic (read: ‘crazy’) writing held my interest.
Nathan Hall, Midnight Shoveller February 5, 2011

To mix different styles is an art but Atli (Heimir Sveinsson) knows it very well. His Symhpony  was an eventful journey through the outer and inner worlds, the human experience and the psyche, the sibyls and harassment og feelings, sore and tender. It was an  intense experience. So intense that the music is still lives with me, like a dream, a nightmare from the past but also as regret – and maybe as a bearer of new times.              Jónas Sen of Symphony no. 6, Morgunblaðið March 2009

 

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