It's a cliché to call Icelandic music evocative of the country's landscape and of the Norse myths so intrinsically tied with Western imagination, from the Prose Edda to the Icelandic Sagas to the books of J.R.R. Tolkien. Yet it's virtually impossible to listen to the latest from composer-conductor Daníel Bjarnason and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra without losing oneself to images of misty volcanic beaches, the eternal twilight of Northern winter, the mind-boggling immensity of a pitch-black sky.
“Recurrence” brings together five fast-rising, particularly imaginative Icelandic composers taken with explorations of texture and glacial movement. Each piece is charged with slow-churning cinematic beauty that builds from eerie stillness to climaxes that seemingly mimic the intense savagery of natural and supernatural worlds.
In Thurídur Jónsdóttir's Flow and Fusion, figures emerge from and disappear into a swirling fog of microtonal strings and scraped cymbal. Volcanic surges of brass give way to unsettling waves that swell and dissipate before rolling out into the ether.
The orchestration that begins Hlynur A. Vilmarsson's BD — shuffling sul ponticello strings and bass drum; pointillistic flute pops and bells — emulates the nocturnal song of whales and slow cracking of ice, shape-shifting into the metal-driven movement and industry of a dwarf workshop. María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir's Aequora emerges from predawn silence: mallets and strings gradually coalesce into a sustained, luminous sunrise before retreating again into darkness. Daniel Bjarnason's evocative Emergence pivots between beginning-of-the-universe-like slow builds and frenetic flurries of counterpoint and lush string hooks, ultimately untethering itself into the ambient expanse of deep space.
The drama of the music is intensely amplified by the production quality of the recording. As we've come to expect from audiophile label Sono Luminus, this is an orchestral album made for headphones: almost uncomfortably close-up clarity, string swells that move antiphonally between speakers; phrases passed across the stereo spread. It's the kind of mixing usually reserved for art rockers and IDM producers, one that brings each particle of the texturally-driven music up close for magnified inspection.
Anna Thorvaldsdottir's Dreaming is a fitting closer for "Recurrence." A distant ethereal haze taken under a microscope becomes a latticework of orchestrational intricacies, morphing from silent weightlessness to monolithic storms before dissolving into quiet, granular string scrapes, a cycle to continue infinitely across the Icelandic landscape.
Iceland Symphony Orchestra: Recurrence
Sono Luminus | Released April 7