Sunday 9 August 2015

Hugi Gudmundsson - Calm of the Deep

Hugi Gudmundsson - Calm of the Deep
Hugi Gudmundsson; Nordic Affect, Hanna Loftsdottir, Hamrahlid Choir, Thorgerdur Ingolfsdottir
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 30 2015
Star rating: 3.5

Contemporary music from Iceland in dialogue with the past, in various ways

Hugi Gudmundsson (born 1977) is an Icelandic composer and Calm of the Deep, his disc on the Smekkleysa label, brings together number of his pieces which have a varied dialogue with music of the past. Performers include the Hamrahlid Choir, conductor Thorgerdur Ingolfsdottir, viola da gamba player Hanna Loftsdottir, and the period instrument group Nordic Affect. The disc includes Hugi Gudmundsson's Handelusive played by Nordic Affect, Four intermezzi for gamba played by Hanna Loftsdottir, and a sequence of choral pieces sung by Hamrahlid Choir conducted by Thorgerdur Ingolfsdottir. But the curious thing is that the various movements are interleaved with the individual choral pieces so that the disc opens with the choral piece To This My Thoughts Turn All My Days, followed by the first movement of Handelusive, another choral piece Palindrom and then the first gamba intermezzo. I was not convinced that this worked and felt that the instrumental items were stronger when heard in a group.

Hugi Gudmundsson
Hugi Gudmundsson
Hugi Gudmundsson became interested in early instruments when Nordic Affect played his piece Apocrypha. The group then premiered his Handelusive in 2009 as part of a Europe-wide broadcast commemorating Handel's death. The work takes movements from Handel's Water Music and de-constructs them. Using the period instruments he gets some ravishing and imaginative timbres. The result is an appealing piece which shows the wit and distinctive voice of Hugi Gudmundsson's music.  The original music is not always obvious and this contributes to the intriguing character of the music. Here it is played with wit and style by Nordic Affect (Georgia Browne, flute, Halla Steinunn Stafnsdottir, violin, Gudrun Hrund Hardardottir, viola, Hanna Loftsdottir, cello, Gudrun Oskarsdottir, harpsichord, conductor Gudrun Franzson).

The Four Intermezzi were written especially for this disc, four short studies each of which seems to take a particular aspect of the viola da gamba technique and explore it. Richly imaginative dialogues between old and new, the shortness of some of the movements means that the piece worked best for me when all four were heard together.

The disc opens with the choral piece To This My Thoughts Turn All My Days which uses an old lyric and melody with Hugi Gudmundsson's newly made harmonisation and arrangement. The work was written for conductor Thorgedur Ingolfsdottir in 2001 and was the first time Hugi Gudmundsson had used old melodies. Many of the other choral pieces on the disc use such old material and all the choral music has a very distinct sound and affekt. Hugi Gudmundsson writes attractive, personable choral music with a lovely feel for voices (he is a choral singer himself), but after a while I found the texture and sound world of the choral music rather too similar despite loving the sound of the sung Icelandic language.

Under Thorgerdur Ingolfsdottir the Hamrahlid Choir, one of Iceland's leading youth choirs, are excellent. But I would have preferred that the balance of the disc was more tilted towards the instrumental music with fewer choral ones.

Hugi Gudmundsson is still young and this disc shows us an interesting new voice in classical music.

Händelusive All Movements | Hugi Gudmundsson | Nordic Affect | Andri Haflidason from Andri on Vimeo.

Hugi Gudmundsson (born 1977) - Handelusive
Hugi Gudmundsson (born 1977) - Four Intermezzos for Gamba
Hugi Gudmundsson (born 1977) - To This My Thoughts Turn All My Days
Hugi Gudmundsson (born 1977) - Palindrome
Hugi Gudmundsson (born 1977) - Rest
Hugi Gudmundsson (born 1977) - O Sing, My Soul
Hugi Gudmundsson (born 1977) - The Blessed Birth of Our Lord
Hugi Gudmundsson (born 1977) - Choral
Hugi Gudmundsson (born 1977) - Iceland's Clock
Hugi Gudmundsson (born 1977) - The Shapen World
Nordic Affect
Hamrahlid Choir
Thorgerdur Ingolfsdottir (conductor)
Hanna Loftsdottir (viola da gamba)
Recorded Hatekgskirkya 14.16 April 2012, 28 May 2013; National State Radio, 8 November 2012, Sunkirken, Copenhagen, 11 August 2013

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