International Contemporary Ensemble

Aequa: International Contemporary Ensemble performs Anna Thorvaldsdottir

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The Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir has gained considerable attention in the U.S. in the second half of the 2010s decade, and this 2018 release provides a good introduction to her ideas. Thorvaldsdottir has described her music as "an ecosystem of sounds and materials that are carried from one performer or performers to the next throughout the progress of a work." Further, she says, " [t]he pieces for smaller forces on AEQUA orbit the largest work, Aequilibria, which is written for a chamber ensemble of 12 performers;" smaller groups are used for those others. Thus the concept of the "work" here applies both to the individual pieces and to the album, on which the seven compositions are linked by a common style and by similar musical materials. The pieces seem to evolve out of one another in the same way that the music evolves over the course of a single piece. Extended tones are prominent among those materials, with other instruments ornamenting them or joining in a heterophonic sound. There is little polyphonic writing or even true harmony. The effect has a starkness that naturally causes the mind to go to Iceland's minimal landscapes (and the black-and-white photos in the graphics push it further in this direction). Thorvaldsdottir has stated that has not consciously tried to evoke nature but has certainly been influenced by it. Instead, she says, she is interested in more abstract concepts such as balance. The end result is music that carries the simplicity and direct appeal of minimalism but also embodies complexity and rigor. Beautifully performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble, a group of top New York performers and composers, Aequa is ideally suited to the engineering talents of the U.S. audiophile label Sono Luminus, working in the Oktaven Audio studio outside New York. For those with the equipment to exploit it, a Blu-Ray Audio disc is included with the CD version. Highly recommended.

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