- Áfangar (Stages), for clarinet, violin & piano (13:46)
Ristur (Carvings), for clarinet & piano
Nocturnes (3), for clarinet, violin, cello & piano
Sonatina for clarinet & piano
Plutôt blanche qu'azurée (Rather white than azure), for clarinet, cello & piano
Western classical is a relatively recent transplant to Iceland, and the country has a small but intrepid classical community, including a national symphony orchestra. The field of classical new music specialists must be practically microscopic, but, based on the performances of these works by five late twentieth century Icelandic composers, it must be thriving. Most of the pieces here are mildly modernist works -- not tonal, but mostly operating in a gentle, impressionistic, gesturally conventional soundworld. Another characteristic many of the pieces share is a sense of reserve and melancholy -- these are for the most part inward-looking, reflective works, which in some way may reflect the restraint for which the Icelandic culture is known. Each piece is well crafted and distinctive, written with sensitivity to the instruments. The performers include a pianist, violinist, cellist, and clarinetist; only one movement is written for the complete ensemble and the rest are duos or trios. Páll Pamplicher Pálsson's "Three Nocturnes" and Áskell Másson's "Sonatina for clarinet and piano" are among the loveliest and most effective pieces recorded here. Atli Heimir Sveinsson's evocative "Rather White than Azure" is the most sophisticated and the structurally and sonically adventurous work, with the most expansive emotional range. The two-movement piece, which makes use of many of the extraordinary sounds of the inside of a piano, is the work of a composer with acute sensitivity to unconventional sonorities, and the imagination to combine them in inventive and thoroughly engaging ways. The soloists play with complete security and expressive breadth, and the sound is clean and lively. The CD should be of interest to fans of contemporary chamber music that's fresh yet firmly rooted in the traditions of the past.