Anna Thorvaldsdottir is one of the most interesting voices in contemporary music today. The Icelandic composer is a kind of Björk for today’s art music. She defies conventions and remains accessible despite her unapologetic originality. There is something of Gorecki/Vasks meets George Crumb in her music.
Like her homeland, Thorvaldsdottir’s soundworld has a viscerally mineral, raw and solid, yet strangely seductive quality. The softness and poetry of the northern lights enveloping the implacability of an arid, barren setting, or something like.
This string quartet, Enigma, the composer’s first, is an impressive exercise in the genre. Nearly thirty minutes of long, sustained phrases of infinite melancholy. These support the clattering of pizzicati, col legno sounds (which means hitting the strings with the wood of the bow) and other contemporary string techniques.
The sonic carpet of the first movement is thus riddled with speckled, stinging textures like so many scattered dart wounds.
The second movement is creaky, its uneasy harmonies rubbing together like a rusty mechanism from an infinitely old age. The chromatic proximity expresses the mechanism’s lack of ease.
In the third movement, this uneasiness, this greyness, is still perceptible, but it is lightened a little. The stings of the first movement become less frequent, the musical dialogue is transformed into a mysterious melody evoking the echoes of an era long gone, but whose furtive, discarded traces slowly manifest themselves like a jolt from the subconscious.
The Spektral Quartet is the excellent accomplice of a creation of high stature that confirms the international status of this fascinating Icelandic composer.