The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Truls Mørk (cello) Scottish Chamber Orchestra/John StorgŠrds
Composer: Hallgrímsson

This disc is a real find – some startlingly fresh music in exceptional performances, and a rich, crystal-clear recording. Icelander Hafliði Hallgrímsson (b.1941) was principal cellist of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) for several years before devoting himself full-time to composition in 1983, so it should come as no surprise that he writes so idiomatically and convincingly for the instrument. Yet his solo cello lines in these two works really seem to speak, and they have some fascinating tales to tell. It’s as if the soloist takes the listener by the hand and guides them through a strange landscape of enthralling sounds and visions, conjured inspiringly by the SCO under John Storgårds.

This directness of communication is ably maintained by Truls Mørk, who is on exceptional form here. Particularly in the 2003 Cello Concerto, he combines a seemingly flawless technical command with a real passion for the music. He delivers some truly beautiful sounds with his 1723 Montagnana, from icicles of harmonics to bronzed bass figures, yet there’s a clarity and a cleanness to everything he articulates. His muscular, serious playing, full of vigour and expression, is a perfect match for Hallgrímsson’s often rugged yet sensual music. In the work’s radiant C major central episode, Mørk floats an ecstatic, thoughtfully phrased melody over the orchestra’s throbbing triads, and he contributes some consoling tremolandos when the tonality returns for the work’s poignant conclusion.

The earlier Herma is a darker work, and Mørk’s cello line is more volatile and changeable. Yet his passion and commitment are still evident, even in the work’s more ascerbic cello lines. Strongly recommended.

David Kettle