Hard on the heels of Nordic Affect’s recording of Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s string trio Reflections (2016), in a fascinating mixed programme for Sono Luminus, comes another from this same label, part of a portrait-style disc containing six chamber and one instrumental piece. I said previously that Reflections was a ‘challenging’ listen, ‘though … directly communicable’, and this rather tauter, swifter account from the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) diminishes the challenge and emphasises its communicability.
Tempo may be the crucial factor in this instance and throughout the ICE players seem to hit on just the right speeds and pace for each work. Not all come over equally successfully, nonetheless; the other string trio here, Spectra (2017), I found stubbornly elusive and non-engaging despite the undeniable commitment of Josh Modney, Wendy Richman and Michael Nicholas. Stylistically, there is little dissimilar to the couplings, all featuring the same spare, lean textures of many of this composer’s pieces (and, indeed, Icelandic music generally); yet other works compel attention. The opening piano solo Scape (2011), with its Cowell-like sonorities playing directly on the strings (rivetingly rendered here by Cory Smythe), is one such, as is Sequences (2016) – my favourite track, a quartet for the unlikely combination of bass flute, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone and contrabassoon.
The two larger ensemble pieces – Aequilibria (2014) and Illumine for eight strings (2016) – certainly conjure up and maintain distinctive tonal and expressive landscapes, holding the balance nicely between content and instrumental texture. At times, the desire for unusual sonorities seems to get the better of the message, but Thorvaldsdottir’s music is never less than fascinating. Sono Luminus’s sound is first-rate, allowing every flick of the strings and click of the percussion to be heard with crystalline precision.