BBC Music Magazine 5 stars; Klassik Heute: outstanding.
It is possible that the reviewer who characterized Jón Leifs (1899-1968) as ”a composer in no danger of being lost in the crowd once his music is heard” was thinking primarily of works such as Geysir (BIS-CD-830), Hekla (BIS-CD-1030) or Hafís (BIS-CD-1050) – works which contain some of the most astoundingly loud music ever recorded! If the present CD is less generous in terms of decibels or special effects such as the sound of Icelandic rock cascades, the music is still unmistakeably Jón Leifs.
All but one of the works are for choir or solo voices and orchestra, and their subject matter is, as often with Leifs, either Iceland itself or the ancient myths of the country. Gróa’s Spell and The Lay of Helgi the Hunding-slayer, for instance, are both based on texts from the Poetic Edda, while Landfall for male choir and orchestra was inspired by Leifs’ first glimpse of land on his return to Iceland after the 2nd World War.
Also included on this disc is the Iceland Cantata (from 1930), a work in seven movements for mixed choir and orchestra which Árni Heimir Ingólfsson, the expert on Jón Leifs, in his generously informative liner notes calls the composer’s “first real masterpiece, and one of the high points of his entire career.” A curiousity for those who follow our Leifs series is Spring Song, a short work which is strikingly – for Leifs – light-hearted and joyous. As surprising will be the orchestration in Viking’s Answer (Víkingasvar).The only instrumental work on the disc, it is scored for a wind orchestra with four saxophones (the only time in Jón Leifs’ music), violas and double basses!
As on previous CDs in the series, it’s the Iceland Symphony Orchestra which gives us this rare – three of the works are World Première Recordings – opportunity to hear the music of their great countryman. (The orchestra’s latest offering, Baldr BIS-CD-1230/31, was termed an account of “enormous conviction” by the reviewer in BBC Music Magazine.)