While it should come as no surprise that contemporary Icelandic music should have – like music elsewhere across the globe – come of age, the sheer scope and breadth of its soundscape is, nevertheless, quite breathtaking. Riding the crest of a new wave created by Björk, Atli Heimir Sveinsson and Jóhann Jóhannsson is the dazzling Siggi String quartet founded by violinist and composer Una Sveinbjarnardóttir, whose work Opacity forms one of the five pillars of the quartet’s 2019 recording South of the Circle.
This follow-up to Philip Glass: Piano Works, the 2017 recording that the quartet shared with celebrated pianist and countryman Vikingur Ólafsson, is both sparkling and deeply reflective. The quartet’s interpretation of Sveinbjarnardóttir’s composition and those of three other Icelanders is marked by the poignancy of their playing. The music becomes part of a natural landscape that mixes beauty and danger. Whether evocative of freezing nights or long rainy days, each track takes us to a place – often wildly exhilarating – with trusted and inspiring musical friends.
Such warmth comes at no expense to either classical elegance or avant-garde subversion.
Throughout the quartet creates a compelling sound-bed for four voices of contrasting character. Although best expressed in the long inventions of the solos contained in Opacity, the virtuoso playing of the quartet is also expressed in their sculpting of the music of Daníel Bjarnason’s Stillshot, Valgeir Siguròsson’s Nebraska, Mamikó Dis Ragnarsdóttir’s Fair Flowers and Haukur Tómasson’s Serimonia.