Olafur Arnalds: Island Songs (LP, Decca, October 2016)

It’s probably a trite observation, but the last week of October was a good one for fans of Icelandic classical music, with Jóhann Jóhannsson’s splendid Orphée and this. Other than the coincidence of the composers’ nationality, these are actually pretty different records. Where JJ’s was clearly very personal, this is explicitly collaborative, each track featuring a different guest artist. Where JJ’s was partly inspired by his move from Denmark to Germany, this is something of a tribute to Arnald’s homeland: it’s the result of a 7-week journey around the island (which you can read more about on the album’s website), and all the guests are Icelandic (and some are seemingly non-professional). And where JJ’s 15 tracks felt like one grand work, the 7 numbers here (8 on the digital release) are much more varied and (unsurprisingly) feel more like a collection of chamber pieces. And a fine collection, too. The opening track, Árbakkinn, is a strong statement of intent, with poet Einar Georg Einarsson reciting sonorously over a delightful bit of piano and strings: I have no idea what he’s giffing on about, but it sounds great. Other highlights are Raddir, in which the South Iceland Chamber Choir chant rather beautifully to an organ accompaniment; Öldurót, which sees Arnalds teaming up with fellow composer Atli Örvarsson & the SinfoniaNord orchestra and combining electronics, piano, and strings to produce something Max Richter probably wouldn’t be too ashamed of; and Dalur, which combines Arnald’s close-miked piano with Brasstríó Mosfellsdals’ French horn. Perhaps inevitably, there are weaker numbers too, and for me Particles in particular doesn’t quite work: Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir of indie-folk-pop band Of Monsters And Men sings a rather bland English vocal which feels out of place. On the whole, though, this is pretty delightful stuff.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Early Electronic / Soundtracks, which is puzzling to me.

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