Over the past decade, Anna Thorvaldsdottir has slowly and steadily become one of the world’s finest composers ~ and she’s done it the hard way, without soundtracks or singles. After patiently expanding her body of work, she’s now released “CATAMORPHOSIS” (on Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s Atmospheriques) and ARCHORA / AIŌN a month apart. Consolidating her oeuvre, Sono Luminus has now released or re-released all of her orchestral works.
2012’s Rhízōma was one of the first albums we ever reviewed. She was solid then, and she’s solid now. Unlike other composers, Thorvaldsdottir has never needed to grow into her talent. But she has grown, her pre-existing maturity deepening, her attention to nuance and restraint more apparent than ever. On ARCHORA / AIŌN, the contrast between immersive depths and sudden, euphoric heights creates narrative arcs without words, and certain passages are the most memorable of her career.
Note: the world premiere version above differs slightly from the album version.
The album begins with “ARCHORA,” which premiered only last year and portrays “a primordial energy and the idea of an omnipresent parallel realm.” In popular terms, one might call it the multiverse. A huge opening brass note leads to already-agitated strings, a swirl reminiscent of boiling magma and the raging, formless sea. At the three-minute mark, the music is threaded through the needle of a single note, erupting as an orchestra on the other side. The percussion expands, occupying both background and foreground. Two minutes later, the eight notes repeat, doubling back on themselves before retracting to quieter strings. Even then, one is not prepared for the overwhelming sweetness of the major keys at 6:46. And while the passage doesn’t linger long, the listener knows it will circle back, producing an exquisite tension.
At 8:42, a single brass note breaks through the drone like a surfacing whale. Soon after, one can hear its companions hovering in the deep. And now all of these elements begin to return in new combinations, interacting like gases and memories. In the final minutes, the music takes ginger steps backward, like courtesans politely leaving the presence of the queen.
The early scales of “AIŌN” connect the works in timbre, affirming the sequencing of the album. Thorvaldsdottir writes of experiencing time as a non-linear construct, allowing for freedom of movement. This being said, the three movements serve as anchors, allowing one to retain one’s bearings. “Morphosis” does just what its title suggests, building drama akin to an adventure. The intensity relents at the exact halfway mark to introduce a cinematic sub-theme. If one is indeed traveling through time, this spot yields the highest emotional connection. The drums shatter the reverie, dislodging the listener from the mooring, like a sailor awoken from the cry of the siren.
“Transcension” is the quiet middle child, but it also possesses surprising depths. A particularly poignant passage appears at the five-minute mark, only to dissipate like a dream. The pounding drums of the ninth minute revive the drama; as the other players rest, one realizes this is a drum solo! As serious as this composition may be, it’s easy to imagine Chief Conductor Eva Ollikainen and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra having a blast performing it. Even the shaker has its time in the sun. The melody’s return feels like the safety of shore after a trip on the tumultuous sea.
Now only “Entropia” remains, a delicious glissando launching listeners into the final movement. Here some – but not all – of the musical chickens come home to roost. Time folds back on itself, questioning time’s arrow. Even now there is room for growth, the ponderous percussion of the fourth minute saying, act now, the gate is about to close, but one final bout of sweetness, one last invitation to dwell, yet remains. In life, one never knows when that last good thing may arrive ~ while on a disc, the clock counts down to its inevitable end. (Richard Allen)
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