Jón Leifs - SöngvarEven if you're an avid collector of art song recordings, you may have missed this item from 2001 on the Icelandic 'Smekkleysa' label: Söngvar: the Complete Songs of Jón Leifs. 40 years after his death, Leifs is still arguably Iceland's most accomplished composer, credited with melding native folksong traditions with a jagged, block-chord-based brand of modernism that he felt reflected the harshness of the north Atlantic island. Leif's songs exemplify that fusion; they sound like a latter-day, less tonal Max Reger in an especially stentorian mood, and yet the influence of folk melody is always audible. The frequent use of parallel 5ths in the piano in particular evokes the sound of tvísöngur -- a form of early Icelandic polyphony. The vocal lines are unforgiving, and after a while the relentless march of thick harmonies -- always on the beat, always accented -- can wear you down. But once you acclimate to Leif's chosen language, the nuances come into focus. Finnur Bjarnason (tenor) and pianist Örn Magnúson are not faint of heart, and neither should you be if you decide to delve into Leif's world.

Hjörtun hefjast (Hearts Rise Up)
Þat mælti mín móðir (My Mother Wants a Price Paid)