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Snorri Sigfus Birgusson 7 Portraits

played by the composer (piano)


SMK12 [http://notendur.centrum.is/~ssb/ssbhome.htm]
Purchase from http://www.smekkleysa.is/

Every country is unique, but Iceland can claim to be especially extreme in its uniqueness. A population of 250,000, less than that of a London borough, subsists in the most fantastical and unusual environment imaginable, but supports (with significant assistance from the EU) the richest possible cultural life. Icelanders are famed for strength of character and are over-achievers in everything; a legacy, they would tell you, from the fact only the toughest even among Vikings were able to stand the adverse conditions of living there.


Birgisson's piano music is unsurprisingly evocative of the fey, supernatural Icelandic landscape. The 7 portraits are indeed of ‘friends pictured within,' although without specificity. No 2 is especially ‘icelandic' in its watery, glacial atmosphere, No 7 other-worldly and bell-like, No 5 elliptical and percussive, No 6 abrasive and remote. The middle two are perhaps the most accessible, No 3 gentle and cerebral, No 4 flowing and light.


Birgisson has thoughtfully included the score for the reviewer, showing how the allusive and subtle polyrhythms, smoothed out in performance, notate as combinations of irregular bars. Furthermore, the music exists in tandem with the visual art of Birgisson's friend, Halldor Asgeirsson, whose exhibition, Image, itself an exploration of spatial awareness, line and colour, in abstract relation with nature, is included in miniature form in the booklet.


This was, in fact, an Installation in first performance, the CD a record of the exhibition, where Birgisson performed the pieces. If such presentation invites comparison across art forms, one would say that, for example, No 3 is Braque-ian, No 4 Cezanne-like.


Birgisson makes much of having been born in the (Chinese) Year of the Horse; this makes him (according to astrology) wilful and ‘hard to pin down,' though more auspicious than a female Horse, the least desirable combination of animal and gender in Chinese thinking. This combination of energy, passion and yet elusive unworldliness is certainly true of this music. Whether or not Birgison would wish his music to be compared to the geographical strangenesses of his country, it is certainly horsily independent and original. Recommended.


© Ying Chang