A Hauntingly Relevant New Song Cycle Recasts an Old Norse Myth As a Sinister 21st Century Parable

by delarue

Gerður Kristný’s Icelandic poetic cycle Blóðhófnir/Bloodhoof is a searingly relevant retelling of the ancient Norse myth of Gerður Gymisdóttir, a giantess abducted from her native land and forced to marry the god Freyr. The myth posits the relationship between the two as a love story; Kristný recasts it as a grimly detailed tale of human trafficking. Composer Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir uses that text for her new song cycle, performed starkly and hauntingly by period instrument ensemble Umbra and streaming at Spotify.

The instrumentalists also serve as choir, Lilja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir out in front of the group with her understatedly plaintive, matter-of-fact soprano. Low-key as much of this music is, she does not come across as someone willing to go gently into the clutches of narcissism and entitlement.

Overtones ring and oscillate from the strings in the suite’s many suspenseful, rather horizontal lnterludes, with particular emphasis on smoky lows from bass and cello. Somberly anthemic folk melodies move along slowly, often over a hypnotic pulse. Stately mini-chorales alternate with haphazardly swaying, witchy themes and relentlessly troubled ambience. The sixth segment, with spare harp and dissociatively echoing atmospherics, is particularly harrowing. There’s considerable poignancy in a harp/cello duet three tracks further in; finally, Haraldsdóttir makes a quiet pivot from otherworldly, close-harmonied insistence to a skeletal pavane and then an angst-fueled drift out. In a year where the upcoming Ghislaine Maxwell trial could have game-ending consequences for the lockdowners, this album couldn’t have been released at a more appropriate time.