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Haflidi Hallgrímsson

Publisher: Chester Music

Ombra (1999)
commissioned by the Icelandic State Broadcasting Corporation
Work Notes
dedicated to Lars Anders Tomter
Chester Music Ltd
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
20 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
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Programme Note
'Ombra', my viola concerto, consists of several sections linked together to form a large, one movement design, lasting 18-20 minutes. The solo part is in essence a long and endlessly varied narrative. It starts on its long journey, which embraces the full technical vocabulary of the instrument, to arrive at last quietly, in the extreme high register, at the end of the concerto.

After a thoughtful and rhapsodic opening, the soloist enters with an extended and virtuosic cadenza, with the orchestra becoming fully involved in restless and harmonically dense scale passages. A slow meditative passage follows, with the viola singing and whistling high harmonics, leading to a section of fast and furious double stops, showing the more masculine side of the instrument, and moving inexorably to the main climax of the work and a quiet extended coda.

The orchestra for the most part plays a subsidiary role, providing a constantly shifting "harmonic scenery", often dense and divided into many individual parts, which always aims at enhancing the poetic and dramatic nature of the solo part.

© Haflidi Hallgrímsson

  • Ensemble
    Reykjavik Chamber Orchestra
    Ragnhild Heiland S¢rensen (soprano), Pórunn Osk Marinósdóttor (viola), Thorleif Thedéen (cello)
    Bernharour Wilkinson
"Haflidi Hallgrímsson used to be the principal cellist of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. But that is surely not the main reason why the SCO assumed the responsibility of giving the first performances of his viola concerto, Ombra. It is a work any chamber orchestra would be happy to be associated with. It is scores for strings only and they rarely have a leading role to play. On the other hand, the solo viola part is of such interest, so resourcefully written and so eloquently expressive, that it must be rewarding enough just to make the right noise in the supporting orchestral part. The soloist in the first three performances - in St Andrews, Glasgow and Edinburgh last week - was Lars-Anders Tomter, a violist with a big sound, an easy technique, a supple line and a wide range of colour. Nothing less would do in this work, which treats the soloist as a kind of story teller recounting a variety of clearly heroic and evidently amorous adventures without once allowing his spectators' attention to wander."
Gerald Larner, The Times,02/11/1999
"If the world goes on producing viola players like the Norwegian virtuoso Lars-Anders Tomter, viola jokes may become a thing of the past. The viola has been described as the Cinderella of the string section, and less politely as a kind of a weedy bastard-child of the violin and cello - the last refuge of the failed violinist. But to hear Haflidi Hallgrímsson's Ombra ("Shadow") for viola and string orchestra is to realise how much poetry and muscular power there is in the instrument. Well, Ombra is well-written for the viola; and Hallgrímsson uses the much -divided strings so that they rarely threaten to overpower the soloist. In fact, most of the time they shadow the viola rather than setting themselves up as a collective antagonist, or even an alter-ego. It is not an extrovert piece, but it impresses subtly. Putting Ombra alongside Benjamin Britten's Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge was inspired. The haunted soundworlds of Britten's Chant and Viennese Waltz variations aren't so far removed from Hallgrímsson's eerie Nordic nightscapes.
Stephen Johnson, The Scotsman,01/11/1999
"A viola concerto by a cellist is no older than a cello concerto by a viola player. But whereas Dvorak's cello concerto is a romantic idyll for that instrument, Haflidi Hallgrímsson's concerto last night pushed the viola to the limits of its range, from its depths in the opening bars to its heights at the end. Unveiled in St Andrews on Thursday before reaching Glasgow, it never allowed the soloist to recede into the background in the manner that exponents of the reputedly awkward instrument - neither violin nor cello - are prone to do. Entitled Ombra, …, it had a lucidity of utterance that tends to be associated with Nordic composers - Hallgrímsson is Icelandic, though long resident in Scotland. Its argument was well clinched, its string textures fastidious, its contrasts between fast and slow, bold ad mysterious, sharp and blunt beautifully calculation. The ending was a poetic ascent above a dark pit of double-bass tone.
Conrad Wildon, The Herald,30/10/1999
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