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Leifs: Elegies / Wilkinson, Reykjavik Chamber Orchestra


Release Date: 11/11/2014 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 2070  
Composer:  Jón Leifs
Performer:  Porunn GudmundsdottirRut Ingólfsdóttir
Conductor:  Bernhardur Wilkinson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Reykjavík Chamber OrchestraMale Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 0 Hours 55 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Jón Leifs’ music is a world unto itself, and the four works on this disc offer good sense of its expressive range. Scherzo concreto is a brief piece scored for the nutty combination of piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bassoon, trombone, tuba, viola and cello. It begins like one of those atonal “squeak bloop” things that you might find parodied at a Hoffnung Festival concert, but it soon settles down to Leifs’ typically folk-inspired brand of musical garrulity. The Quintet, for piccolo and flute, clarinet, bassoon, viola and cello dwells in the same general region, only two further, lengthier movements precede its concluding scherzo.

Variazioni pastorale is an early work originally composed for orchestra,
Read more but here arranged for string quartet by the composer–and very effectively too. The variations are unfailingly inventive, and it’s really fun to hear them evolve from the style of Beethoven’s original string trio to that of Leifs (and sort of back again). Elegies incorporates in its first movement music from the brief Requiem, and like that earlier work the entire suite of three movements memorializes the composer’s daughter, who drowned while swimming of the coast of Sweden in 1944. The work’s three movements–Grief, Dance of Sorrow, Sea Poem–are scored for male chorus, with mezzo soprano soloist and violin in the finale movement. You’ll be amazed at the richness of the texture the Leifs conjures with these limited forces, particularly in the last piece.

Of course we have the performances to thank for the positive impression this distinctive, often strange music makes. The members of the Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra and its associated choir obviously understand the idiom (if they don’t, who does?), and conductor Bernhardur Wilkinson leads them with absolute conviction. Mezzo soprano Thorunn Gudmundsdóttir also sings quite affectingly in the finale of Elegies. Previously released in Iceland on the mysterious Smekkleysa label (and also reviewed at that time), now licensed by BIS, this remains a beautiful, and beautifully engineered disc.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Variations on a Theme of Beethoven, Op. 8 by Jón Leifs
Conductor:  Bernhardur Wilkinson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
2.
Scherzo Concreto, Op. 58 by Jón Leifs
Conductor:  Bernhardur Wilkinson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1964 
3.
Elegies by Jón Leifs
Performer:  Porunn Gudmundsdottir (Mezzo Soprano), Rut Ingólfsdóttir (Violin)
Conductor:  Bernhardur Wilkinson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Male Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; Iceland 
4.
Quintet, Op.50 by Jón Leifs
Conductor:  Bernhardur Wilkinson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Iceland 

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