Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra

Jón Ásgeirsson: Sjöstrengjaljóð

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Jón Asgeirsson (born 1928) is one of Iceland's leading composers, and this CD brings together five of his chamber works that span nearly 40 years of his career. Asgeirsson could be considered a kind of Icelandic Bartók; he has extensively gathered folk music of his country, and the sound of that music has helped shape his own compositional voice, either explicitly or in more subtle ways. His Quintet for piano and string quartet, based on Icelandic folk songs, shows the most overt influence. Its four movements are essentially arrangements of folk material, and several had originally been conceived as choral music. The Wind Quintet No. 2 is a more abstract work, with a Hindemithian astringency and reliance on contrapuntal devices; in fact, there are moments where the piece brings Hindemith's Kleine Kammermusik for wind quintet distinctly to mind. The remaining works display a similar aesthetic, particularly in being densely contrapuntal. The Octet for woodwinds benefits from the variety of sonorities the ensemble can produce, and which suits the perky music the composer writes for it. Asgeirsson's music is firmly rooted in a kind of early twentieth century Germanic and Middle European sensibility that keeps it from having a particularly strong individual voice, although within the framework the composer has carved out, it works well. The Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra and the Reykjavík Wind Quintet turn in polished, committed performances, and the sound is transparent and clean.

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