Billed as an example of "the recent flowering of Icelandic music," this Scottish release may not satisfy in that respect. Composer Haflidi Hallgrímsson, who has spent much of his musical career in the U.K. and specifically most of his compositional career in Scotland, has rejected identification as an Icelandic composer, saying "I don't consider myself as Icelandic but primarily as a human being." He does allow that he is "a northerner I suppose, a northern European even, but to be nationalistic goes against the grain completely." These chamber pieces certainly aren't nationalistic, a term whose applicability to Icelandic music is obscure in any case. But what's intriguing about them is that they resist classification with any geographic trend or transnational idea. Hallgrímsson's style is entirely his own, which is all the more impressive in that he is working here with the most traditional of instrumental forces. The opening Notes from a Diary, for viola and piano, Op. 33, give a good taste of Hallgrímsson's idiom, which you might call episodic if you had to sum it up in a single word. These 15 short pieces are indeed like diary entries: each one defines a "topic" with quite rigorous musical parameters (such as a collection of pitches, whose interrelationships may be anywhere from totally atonal to near tonal) and then plunges into action. A lot happens in each one, as if an engrossing story is being told. The rhythms tend to be free, but the larger arc is never lost. Hallgrímsson's style is distinctive enough that it remains recognizable through the other two works on the program, which each in its own way engages with durable models: the Seven Epigrams for violin and cello, Op. 23, bear dedications to Russian poets and composers, and draw especially on the gloomy, dramatic mood of Shostakovich, while the Metamorphoses for piano trio, Op. 16, the earliest of the pieces here is an homage of a sort to Richard Strauss' work of the same name. Throughout, the fertility of Hallgrímsson's imagination holds the listener's attention, and he seems to bend special sounds (such as occasional extended techniques) to his expressive aims. Highly recommended for those who enjoy chamber music in contemporary idioms.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Notes from a Diary, for viola & piano, Op. 33|
|Seven Epigrams, for violin & cello, Op. 23|