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Trollfågeln - The Magic Bird
Till Maria (for Maria) [5:00]
G-mollpolska efter Anders Gustaf Jernberg (Polska in g minor) [3:25]
Ut i mörka natten (into the dark night) [4:55]
Isadoras land (Isadora’s land) [3:50]
Trollfuglen (the magic bird) [2:25]
Polska fra Hoffsmyran (Polska from Hoffsmyran) [4:02]
Herr Lager och skön fager (Herr Lager and the fair beauty) [3:08]
Brännvinslåt från Torsås (Drinking song from Torsås) [2:40]
Pigopolskan / Den glömda polskan (The Maid’s Polska / The Forgotten Polska) [5:08]
När som flickorna de gifta sig (When young women get married) [4:05]
Kapad (Hijacked) [4:44]
Bredals Näckapolska (Näckapolska after Bredal) [3:01]
Galatea Creek [3:19]
Vals från Valsebo (Waltz from Valsebo) [8:56]
Emilia Amper (nyckelharpa, vocal); Johan Hedin (nyckelharpa); Anders Löfberg (cello); Dan Svensson (percussion, guitar, vocals); Olle Linder (percussion, guitar); Helge Andreas Norbakken (percussion)
Strings of Trondheim Solistene (Johannes Rusten, Daniel Turcina (violin); Frøydis Tøsse (viola), Marit Aspaas (cello); Rolf Hoff Baltzersen (double bass))
rec. April 2012, Länna kirka, Sweden, and Trondheim Frikirke, Norway
BIS BIS-SACD-2013 [59:42] 

This is one of those recordings which immediately make me wish I’d grown up in a land with the kind of folk traditions, tales and exotic instruments as those of the Scandinavian regions. True, the UK has a vast and varied history and an increasingly burgeoning folk music circuit, but Morris dancing doesn’t quite hack it in comparison to your Norwegian scales and rhythms, especially on the showing from this fine release.
 
Brian Wilson briefly mentioned this disc on his December 2012 Download News. The nyckelharpa isn’t such a hard instrument to grasp, though the opening Till Maria is a more enigmatic exploration of its possibilities, opening with upper harmonics in similar ways to ECM people like Paul Giger and Walter Fähndrich. This improvisatory folk-flavoured piece, the voice joining with the instrument in a plangent lament, to a certain extent sums up Emilia Amper’s intentions with this recording: “…my love and respect for tradition merge with an on-going, exciting and occasionally also painful exploration of my own boundaries and those of my instrument.” The nyckelharpa is given a more traditional workout in the Polka which follows. The sound is not dissimilar to a fiddle, but with a hint of glass-harmonica nuance thrown in and some extra little mechanical noises which are a natural part of the keys with which the strings are ‘played’, the bow being the driving force behind those strings’ vibrations.
 
This “kaleidoscopic mix in which traditional dance melodies confront newly composed items inspired from other countries as well as pop, rock and chamber music” is inevitably something of a mixed bag, though with Amper’s voice and instrument as a high-class unifying factor. Ut i mörka natten is something like a cross between an arrangement from Rolf Lislevand and the chilled bass-lines of the Buena Vista Social Club, and the Brazilian influences in Isadoras land has us up and dancing or bust. Trollfuglen is one of those rhythmically ‘impossible’ traditional dances on solo nyckelharpa, “the final beat in the bar being a little shorter than the two preceding it.”
 
Polska fra Hoffsmyran brings in the string orchestra and, like strings used in jazz, I have yet to make up my mind if this works to the music’s advantage. Still, with plenty of oomph and subtle percussive effects this little piece has plenty going for it. Herr Lager and the fair beauty is a sweet song which ably resists sentimentality while sailing close to some pop stereotypes. Still not sure about those strings…
 
Some of the best of these pieces are those performed solo, and the Drinking song from Torsås is one of those inimitable tunes which sounds as if it is emerging from the nyckelharpa for the first time. The Maid’s Polska /The Forgotten Polska is a gorgeous duet with two nyckelharpas, Johan Hedin’s sympathetic strings creating extra magic in the kind of medley you could only dream of hearing late at night around a smoky camp fire. When young women get married funks things up with some African influences, the irrepressible beat creating an infectiously supple dancing drive in the music. Kapad or ‘Hijacked’ is Amper’s answer to rock music for the nyckelharpa and very fine it is, with a few power chords and limited harmonic movement creating a basis from which some incredible percussion noises emerge.
 
The last three numbers round us off with another remarkable solo, Bredals Näckapolska, which is said to have magical properties, a marvellous dancing tune inspired by the Canadian landscapes around Galatea Creek, and a fairly downbeat finale with the Nyman-esque minor-key Vals från Valsebo, missing only a choir of wailing saxophones to top of the effect.
 
I would say this is one of those ‘try before you buy’ releases, but if you are open to interesting new sounds, some genuinely fascinating folk music and one highly talented person’s moves within and beyond those traditional influences, then this disc will indeed shake off a few layers of dust and probably revive your interest in foreign travel. The SACD recording is top-notch, and it is an honour to have been in the presence of such fine musicians.
 
Dominy Clements 

 

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