Topping Englabörn's exquisite beauty was a difficult assignment and with Virthulegu Forsetar, Jóhann Jóhannsson doesn't succeed in doing so. The music presented here retains the same esthetics of simplicity, repetition and bareness, but this time around the composer opted for grandeur and length, instead of discretion and short tableaux. "Virthulegu Forsetar" is a 65-minute piece in four continuous movements, for 11 brass players, two organists, one bassist, one percussionist and one pianist (the latter three also using electronics). The piece was composed with a specific site in mind, the Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik (Iceland), and has been recorded there. At its core is a simple brass theme that is often reiterated in various tempi and arrangements throughout the work. The two church organs mostly provide a sustained pedal note. Light glockenspiel and piano notes occasionally add a trickling quality to the otherwise very solemn mood of the piece, while electronics are kept to a minimum, a gritty background texture being perceptible at times. The closest comparison coming to mind would be the Sunrise from Richard Strauss' widely-known Also Sprach Zarathustra stretched out to one hour and with plenty of pauses interspersed. That is to say that the same solemnity is found here, but Jóhannsson's sun is not rising, it mostly stays in place. There is a touch of György Ligeti in the soft sadness of the theme and hints of Morton Feldman in the pace of the work, but the results don't really wrench your heart like the former's music or suspend your conscience out of time like the latter's. This album has been released as a combined CD and audio DVD set, offering a normal stereo mix, 24-bit and 16-bit 5.1 surround and stereo mixes. The surround capture really brings out the rumble of the organ pedal notes, which makes the work significantly more effective.
AllMusic Review by François Couture
|Virðulegu forsetar, for wind instruments & electronics|