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Haflidi Hallgrímsson

Publisher: Chester Music

Cello Concerto Op. 30 (2003)
commissioned jointly by the Oslo Philharmonic, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with funds made available by N.E.S.T.A., the Scottish Arts Council and Norsk Hydro (sole sponsor of the Oslo Philharmonic since 1990)
Chester Music Ltd
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
25 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Haflidi Hallgrímsson Cello Concerto Op. 30 (2003)
Slowly pulsating contra D flats on the harp and pizzicato double basses set in motion the rather serious and reflective atmosphere of my second cello concerto. Its form resmbles an arch, with the dramatic music accumulating near the centre of the work, gradually losing tension, and finally reaching - after a dramatic cadenza late in the concerto - the tranquil mood of the beginning. The cello enters gently, sounding as though it's playing itself, every note played without vibrato. The soloist 'joins in', colouring the sound with delicate vibrato, and the musical character of the performer if gradually felt more strongly. The cello sings, but the soloist is keen to explore its wide-ranging vocabulary, and is soon drawing various instruments of the orchestra into its orbit. The harp, marimba and percussion help to strengthen and clarify some of the more virtuosic explorations introduced by the soloist, whose restless mind constantly seeks adventure within the spacious and atmospheric textures created by the orchestra. The slow pulse stops, leaving the soloist momentarily alone. But it returns and one 'sonic adventure' after another occurs, leaving in their wake many ideas which are gradually taken up by soloist and orchestra, strengthening the initial impression of a sombre musical exploration. A simple lullaby by Grieg which I played on my cello as a child subtly crept its way into the concerto, though ruthlessly rejected many times. Finally it began to haunt me and I realised that, in a sense, I was writing a large-scale lullaby, dreaming strange dreams, soothing my mind while fully awake. This little lullaby is not quoted - only hinted at in low-sounding double-stops, but the slow regular rhythm is observed. It has a great significance as a unifying musical object in this one-movement concerto.

Near the middle of the concerto, the soloist - without much warning - takes off at terrifying speed, the orchestra chasing like a ghost. This outburst doesn't last long, and the cello sings its way along, not fully aware it's being lured towards a cadenza, that terrifying trap. After restlessness, arpeggiando passages and trills, the timpani begin to shadow the soloist in a threatening way, who momentarily engages them in a bizarre dance. The snare drum now shadows the soloist who, in dramatic downward leaps, enters the deeper regions of the orchestra which now take over in an extended tutti. The cello soon emerges, singing long phrases in unison with various wind instruments, and finally finds its way to the low double-stops of Grieg's little lullaby. The concerto ends quietly, as it started, the soloist 'withdrawing', leaving the cello alone to bring the concerto to an end, sounding the low open C string as softly as possible.

Haflidi Hallgrímsson

  • Ensemble
    Scottish Chamber Orchestra
    Truls Mork
    John Storgårds
Rarely does one hear such a virtuosic piece...
Mary Robb,,16/04/2008
'...the concerto makes an immediate impression as well written, imaginatively scored and rich in musical ideas...John Storgards encouraged a characterful orchestral response, notable for its subtle dynamic shading...But with its crepuscular colouring,...its menancing rhythmic tread and its growling, prowling, pouncing cello line, the concerto is more like a full-scale nightmare. Frighteningly intense at seems to mask dark feelings...'
Lynne Walker, The Independent,02/02/2004
IF OUR birth is but a sleep and a forgetting, as Wordsworth would have us believe, then we certainly need a lullaby or two to help us along the way. And that’s exactly what the Icelandic composer Haflidi Hallgrímsson has provided in his new Cello Concerto, given its UK premiere on Friday by Truls Mørk and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Glasgow’s Academy Concert Hall. This is a remarkable new addition to the cello repertoire. A lullaby, of course, has to be sung. And Hallgrímsson, for six years principal cello of the SCO before composition irresistibly took over, knows that singing is just what the cello does best. A fragment from a lullaby by Grieg, which Hallgrímsson played on his cello as a child, kept returning to trouble him. And it is this elusive spectre which haunts his dark and troubled concerto. Comfort there may be, in the long melismas of melody, and in the tonally ballasted harmony which dominates in this continuous 25-minute single movement. But, as the shadowy opening pulse of harp and double-bass warns us, this lullaby prefigures and contains its own nightmares. The dappling of a marimba creates the first frisson of disquiet. It heralds the start of many passages of rapid, dislocating figuration, of tense tremolandi, glissandi and haunting harmonics - all of them a real nightmare for the soloist. Truls Mørk, helped by Hallgrímsson’s own fastidious orchestration, gave an impassioned virtuoso performance. Much of the concerto’s excitement comes from the fight the soloist has to put up to stay above the orchestral water. This is, after all, a concerto for orchestra as well, as the SCO, robustly conducted by John Storgards, fearlessly revealed. Even in the cadenza, the soloist is threatened by timpani and snare drum. His response - and, perhaps, Hallgrímsson might be suggesting, that of beleaguered humankind, too - is to turn back to song, plunging into the deepest regions of the orchestra, only to resurface, quietly singing into silence. This, Hallgrímsson’s second cello concerto, and one of his finest works to date, was set into relief by sensitive programming. The evening began with more dark orchestral singing, in the opening cello chant of the Latvian composer Peteris Vasks’s eight-minute dawn chorus of string writing, Cantabile. One of Vasks’s earliest works, its debt to Lutoslawski is clear in its aleatory counterpoint,an ecstatic free-for-all for 16-part strings. Then, as if to emphasise Hallgrímsson’s subtly variegated sound palette, Grieg’s bombastic Symphony in C minor ("must never be performed", the composer wrote at the top of his youthful manuscript) ended the evening in a blast of shameless sound and fury.
Hilary Finch, The Times,28/01/2004
'...a remarkable new addition to the cello of his finest works to date...'
Hilary Finch, The Times,28/01/2004
'In its handling of light and shade, this single movement concerto has parallels with the dramatic chiaroscuros of Rembrandt and Caravaggio...The result is a parade of texture and nuance...'
James Allen, Daily Telegraph,27/01/2004
'...exquisitely-textured a work of haunting beauty. Instantly characterised by its slow, soft, deep pulsing tread, the concerto...generates an unfailingly evocative sound world...The music is superbly sustained in its overall mood. Even the soloist's flickering adventures into edginess, animation, drama and intensity are fleeting, as the music consistently returns to its lyrical core and its dark, steady pulse. The ending, with the cello sinking gently to the bottom of its register in a delicately-orchestrated cloud of soft, magical sound, is amazing, ethereal and mesmeric.'
Michael Tumelty, The Herald,26/01/2004
'The solo writing is thoroughly idiomatic - a floating, elegiac opening theme emerges with delicious subtlety over Hallgrímsson's brilliantly balanced and fragile orchestration.'
Kenneth Walton, The Scotsman,24/01/2004
The Ultima Festival opened with the Oslo Philharmonic in a concert with excellent soloists and the orchestra, conducted admirably by Christian Eggen was in fine form. The Icelandic composer, Haflidi Hallgrimsson’s Cello Concerto with Truls Mørk as soloist was imbued with power and authority. The assurance and power of Mørk’s playing was totally compelling within the musical whole and the performance was very convincing.
Idar Karevold, Aftenposten Morgen,05/10/2003
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