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Live Review: Johann Johannsson

2 March 2016 | 10:26 am | Thomas Munday

"Bolstered by the rumbling, ominous backing track, Johannsson's driving keys and heavy cello notes illuminated the composer's unique, affecting flourishes."

The heavens opened up over Perth on a balmy Monday night, pushing eager classical music aficionados into pulling out umbrellas or ducking for cover. Pressing to catch even a glimpse of Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson, the audience braved the unusual conditions for a night of splendid orchestral entertainment.

The composer is a true workhorse, known for an illustrious career of albums, singles and scores for feature films, TV, theatre, etc. Before too long, Johannsson and his string quartet sauntered out on stage to a rapturous reception. Recovering from technical difficulties, and slight initial delays, he and his performers swiftly launched into their set without a word to the festival audience.

The performance showcased Johannsson's oeuvre, renowned for the seamless integration of minimalist, neo-classical, drone and electronic elements. Sitting in between his grand piano and laptop set-up, the Oscar nominee remained in a docile, subdued state throughout. In full control, he and his quartet's synchronicity flowed from one soaring, intricate piece to the next without hesitation.

Johannsson drew upon everything from his quintessential compilations to Oscar-calibre original scores. Several pieces from The Theory Of Everything expressed an intelligent orchestral scope and vision. Tracks including A Model Of The Universe breathtakingly intertwine Johannsson's light-to-the-touch piano keys with the quartet's sharp, searing violin chords. Driving each note and string-pluck with grace and precision, the piece's string sections elicited a powerful, romantic response from their captivated crowd.

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The performance continually switched between the composer's feather-light and pitch-black shades. Guided by bold colour and lighting patterns, the set's grittier pieces, including Armoured Vehicle from Sicario, befitted the cityscape's stark atmosphere. Bolstered by the rumbling, ominous backing track, Johannsson's driving keys and heavy cello notes illuminated the composer's unique, affecting flourishes.

The set built to a fitting climax, with Johannsson performing some of his most iconic pieces. The Sun's Gone Dim And the Sky's Turned Black, defined by its magnetic drone/electronic and operatic vocals, became a visual and sensory marvel. The track's experimental, transfixing melody made for the set's standout rendition. Furthermore, 13-minute piece Fordlandia's delicate harmonies made for an uplifting, awe-inspiring achievement.