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Leifs: Hafís, Etc / Manson, Iceland Symphony Orchestra


Release Date: 09/19/2000 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 1050   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jón Leifs
Performer:  Ingveldur Yr JonsdóttirLoftur ErlingssonGunnar GuÄ'björnssonOlafur Kjartan Sigurdarson
Conductor:  Anne Manson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Iceland Symphony OrchestraSchola Cantorum
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 56 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews


Jón Leifs' music tends to extremes: of volume, ensemble size, harmony, and rhythm. As such, people either love it or hate it. I love it. True, it's a comparatively hermetic, or "closed" style, with a limited range of expressive devices. Harmonic motion follows the parallel fourths and fifths of Icelandic folk music, and rhythms are slow moving but relentlessly asymmetrical. Still, no one expresses the primal qualities of nature better, and this disc perfectly illustrates the fact that Leifs could achieve a wide emotional range by drawing selectively on the various tools in his musical storehouse.


The principal work here is Hafís (Drift Ice), the fourth
Read more in a series of vast tone poems illustrating the more violent natural forces shaping the craggy terrain of Iceland. The others in the series, all of which have been recorded for BIS, are Hekla (the volcano), Geysír (which depicts exactly what you think it does; the English word comes from the Icelandic), and Dettifoss (a huge waterfall). All four employ large orchestral forces, and three (the exception is Geysír) ask for a chorus as well. Leifs pulls out all the stops in these pieces, asking for massive percussion in Hekla (20-plus players including pistol shots, cannon, sirens, chains, and steel plates), and in Hafís, a huge ratchet to simulate the sound of cracking ice. The music is thrilling, the choral writing all but impossible yet very effective, the slow crescendos to those huge climaxes unforgettable, and if you haven't heard these works, you're missing something very special.


At the opposite extreme from Hafís lie the two songs: short settings of evocative poems by Jóhann Jónsson the last of which, "Lullabye", has such an extraordinary, haunting simplicity that it's programmed on the disc twice, once in tandem with its companion, "Moon Song", and once at the very end. Both The Lay of Guthrun and Nótt (Night) are basically concert arias or cantatas for soloists and orchestra, neither impractically scored, which would make an interesting change of pace in any symphony program. Fine I was conceived, along with Fine II, as a possible conclusion to Leifs' monumental oratorio Edda III in the event he did not live to complete this last work in a projected trilogy. In the event, he did die with the work unfinished, and the two "Fine" pieces have since acquired a life of their own among the composer's more attractive short works. Fine I begins with a bang and works its way back up to an angry, fist-shaking ending, all in about three and a half minutes.


I had the good fortune to attend the concert at which this music was performed, an occasion commemorating the 100th anniversary of the composer's birth in 1899. It was a moving and extraordinary event, especially when you consider the fact that many of Leifs' works had never been played, including several of these. American conductor Anne Manson led a clearly energized Iceland Symphony Orchestra in spectacular performances of the larger scores, and while not all of the vocal soloists made an equally strong impression, they delivered the sense and spirit of the text as only native singers can. Happily, the electricity of that occasion has carried over to this excellent recording, which boasts stunning recorded sound to boot. If you don't yet know Leifs, here's a perfect place to start.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Hafis, Op. 63 by Jón Leifs
Conductor:  Anne Manson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Iceland Symphony Orchestra,  Schola Cantorum
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1965; Iceland 
Date of Recording: 05/1999 
Venue:  Hallgrim's Church, Reykjavik, Iceland 
Length: 17 Minutes 49 Secs. 
Language: Icelandic 
2.
Songs (2), Op. 14a by Jón Leifs
Performer:  Ingveldur Yr Jonsdóttir (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Anne Manson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Iceland Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929-1930; Iceland 
Date of Recording: 05/1999 
Venue:  Hallgrim's Church, Reykjavik, Iceland 
Length: 4 Minutes 25 Secs. 
Language: Icelandic 
3.
Lay of Gundrun, Op. 22 by Jón Leifs
Performer:  Loftur Erlingsson (Bass), Gunnar GuÄ'björnsson (Tenor), Ingveldur Yr Jonsdóttir (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Anne Manson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Iceland Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; Iceland 
Date of Recording: 05/1999 
Venue:  Hallgrim's Church, Reykjavik, Iceland 
Length: 10 Minutes 55 Secs. 
Language: Icelandic 
4.
Night, Op. 59 by Jón Leifs
Performer:  Gunnar GuÄ'björnsson (Tenor), Olafur Kjartan Sigurdarson (Baritone)
Conductor:  Anne Manson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Iceland Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1964; Iceland 
Date of Recording: 09/1999 
Venue:  Seltjarne's Church, Iceland 
Length: 12 Minutes 4 Secs. 
Language: Icelandic 
5.
Fine I, Op. 55 by Jón Leifs
Conductor:  Anne Manson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Iceland Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1963; Iceland 
Date of Recording: 05/1999 
Venue:  Hallgrim's Church, Reykjavik, Iceland 
Length: 3 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Language: Icelandic 
6.
Songs (2), Op. 14a no 2: Lullaby by Jón Leifs
Performer:  Ingveldur Yr Jonsdóttir (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Anne Manson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Iceland Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930/1936; Iceland 
Date of Recording: 05/1999 
Venue:  Hallgrim's Church, Reykjavik, Iceland 
Length: 2 Minutes 32 Secs. 
Language: Icelandic 

Sound Samples

Hafis (Drift Ice), Op. 63: (Text: Einar Benediktsson)
2 Songvar (2 Songs), Op. 14a: I. Maninn lidur (Moon Song)
2 Songvar (2 Songs), Op. 14a: II. Vogguvisa (Lullaby)
Gudrunarkvida (The Lay of Gudrun), Op. 22: (Text: from Eddic poetry)
Nott (Night), Op. 59: (Text: Torsteinn Erlingsson)
Fine I, Op. 55: Kvedja til Jardlifsins, " Farewell to Earthly Life", for orchestra
2 Songvar (2 Songs), Op. 14a: Tveir Songar (Two Songs), Op. 14a: II: Vogguvisa (Lullaby) (Text: Johann Jonsson)

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