A pandemic affords the opportunity for reflection, even in those who prefer to look forward. Dustin O’Halloran is one of these people, although given his expansive, award-studded history, one would imagine he’d be happy to dwell on his triumphs. Silfur was recorded while the artist spent his lockdown in Iceland. If one were going to be “stuck” anywhere, one could hardly have landed in a better spot.
Silfur is a look back on a storied (yet still young) career of solo works, not including the discographies of Dēvics and A Winged Victory of the Sullen. It’s a return to the artist’s roots, primarily the composer alone at his piano, as heard in one of the album’s two original pieces, “Solo 56.” The solo works invoke both the solitary nature of confinement and the activity of a fertile mind. But then there are beautiful collaborations with the Siggi String Quartet and on the closing piece, Gyða Valtýsdóttir: expressions of friendship in a challenging time.
As O’Halloran revisits his solo works, he occasionally tinkers with their DNA. Although nothing is dramatically different, these new settings seem more intimate and as one might expect, more confident. The tendency of most composers is to veer upward and outward, so it’s a joy to hear an artist still in love with his instrument of choice, eager to highlight its creaks and vicissitudes. Those early albums ~ years before even Vorleben ~ were simply titled Piano Solos and Piano Solos Vol. 2. O’Halloran highlights “the pieces that have stayed with him,” but the same will be true of fans as well; my own delight is the new version of “Opus 37,” my favorite track from the artist, the closing piece of Vol. 2 and the penultimate piece of Silfur, chased only by the brand new “Constellations.” The strings enhance the original, but the melancholic piano melody is still the one that sticks.
As a bonus (and many may have forgotten about this), the sheet music is also available for most of the tracks, as a songbook was published nearly a decade ago, followed by individual works. Those who tackle these songs at home or in churches will be able to delve even deeper into the musical mind of this regenerative artist. (Richard Allen)