Claudio Puntin & Gerdur Gunnarsdottir
From Iceland come a young duo with a sprawling 52-minute canvas of Nordic visions, which by their dark colors and chiefly minor key basis follow the lead of the title cut and album opener "Winter." Claudio Puntin plays the clarinet and bass clarinet and Gerdur Gunnarsdottir supplies violin and vibrato-less vocals. Ten of the fourteen pieces are originals by Puntin with two traditional pieces and two arrangements of existing compositions completing the set. With three titles devoted to faeries and three others to impressions of the seasons, one might expect this music to resound or echo primitive folk influences. Instead, there is refinement via what sound like conservatory-hewn skills, which bring the net effect closer to contemporary chamber recital.
Both artists understand the importance of silence, exhibit excellent tone, able rhythm, and have examined the timbral vocabulary of their respective instruments in building a moody, tastefully varied suite out! of the textures. Puntin often adds drama when things have been too quiet with whooping and trills and arabesque semi-tones; reporting throughout from all registers of his woodwind. Thematically, the pastoral end of this acoustic landscape as in "Melting Ice" or "Midsummer," is balanced with the tellingly human, as in "The Eremite" or the lullaby "Each Little Step," especially when Gunnarsdottir sings. The latter are very valuable to this ambitious, cool recording which may have benefited from the occasional addition of hand drums to boost the human enchantment factor. Still, Ylir exudes a pervasive quality of dimly lit isolation, very much in line with ECM's penchant for Scandinavian ambience, and submits the fine technical dexterity of Puntin & Gunnarsdottir on its own terms. - Steve Taylor
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