Jóhann Jóhannsson

Jóhann Jóhannsson: Englabörn

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Jóhann Jóhannsson originally composed Englabörn for a stage play by Hávar Sigurjónsson, yet the music on this 2002 CD is apparently completely detached from it; any discussion of the music's use in the theater is precluded by the absence of dramaturgical liner notes. The Latin text by Catullus, "Odi et amo," establishes conflict from the outset: "I hate and love; why I do, you may ask; I don't know, but I feel it and it tears me apart." While these words may pertain to the drama's tensions, they are neutralized in Jóhannsson's flat, unemotional setting. Softly scored for female voice, string quartet, percussion, keyboards, and electronics, Jóhannsson's repetitive work is neither intense nor tragic, but only static and melancholy. It seems this incidental music was designed merely to set moods; yet on disc, the pieces are too much of the same thing, moving from one slow section to the next in a monotonous blending of minor harmonies and pop minimalism. The performances by the uncredited vocalist, the Eþos String Quartet, percussionist Matthías Hemstock, and the composer, who plays various instruments, are clean and sometimes pretty, and the sound quality is fine. But this music is not impressive, moving, or even mildly interesting, and does not stand well on its own.

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