Johann Johannsson 'Englaborn & Variations' (Deutsche Grammophon) - SunStar

Johann Johannsson ‘Englaborn & Variations’ (Deutsche Grammophon)

“ENGLABORN” was Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson’s debut album, first issued in 2002. Best known for his soundtracks, Johannsson received Oscar nominations for “The Theory of Everything” and “Sicario.”

Shortly before his unexpected death on Feb. 9, he completed a series of reworkings of “Englaborn” tracks. Some he performed himself, while others were covered by musicians like stunning vocal ensemble Theater of Voices, ambient duo A Winged Victory for the Sullen, pianist Vikingur Olafsson and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

The package has a remastered version of the original release, which developed from music he wrote for a play by Havar Sigurjonsson, as well as the reinterpretations.

At the time, some of the focus was on the electronics and digital processing coloring the sounds produced by the Ethos String Quartet, tuned percussion and traditional keyboard instruments like piano and harmonium. Sixteen years later, the album’s sonic palette is eminently familiar, but the compositions remain just as seductive, dramatic and captivating.

Phil Spector built walls of sound but Johannsson’s compositions are like kaleidoscopes of sieves. There are multiple layers but there’s also a skillful economy to the motifs — a combination at once airy, dense and vibrant.

The variations aren’t a complete set, though some tunes get multiple covers. Johannsson’s input validates them and they range from basic to complex to frenzied. Some of Johannsson’s ability of compression gets diluted but the mysteriousness remains intact. Theater of Voices’ version of “Odi et Amo,” which opens the original album, becomes an elegiac coda, a requiem for the innovative composer.

Though seemingly ideal for winter, the 16 tracks on the 48 minutes of “Englaborn” trigger deep impressions in any season. (AP)

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