Trio Mediaeval: Folk Songs

John Kelman By

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One of the most remarkable aspects of the Scandinavian music scene, no matter what the musical space, is how fluid it is, and how few borders exist—if any exist at all. Anything is possible. The three singers of Trio Mediaeval—Anna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Tornn Østrem Ossum—first emerged in the early part of the decade as interpreters of a classical repertoire, albeit one that ranged from early sacred music to the writing of contemporary composers including Gavin Bryars and Ivan Moody.

The trio's stunning performance at Norway's unclassifiable Punkt 07 festival included guests Jan Bang (live sampling) and Arve Henriksen (trumpet, voice, electronics), demonstrating that even a classical repertoire is rife for sonic expansion. The trio also performed a number of pieces from Folk Songs—an album that adapts traditional Norwegian folk songs to Trio Mediaeval's ethereal, near-angelic musical aesthetic. That none of the singers grew up as folks singers only means that the material, augmented by percussionist Birger Mistereggen, is a truly unique contribution to a traditional music that has more often been passed along from generation to generation as an oral, rather than a written, tradition.

The beautiful mix positions the three singers across the soundscape much as in live performance, making it possible to delineate them as they pass melodies and accompaniment amongst themselves in seamless fashion. Even the three solo performances are balanced slightly to the left (Fuglseth), right (Friman) or dead center (Ossum) so that, as the album progresses, the individual voices and their shifting roles become ever clearer. That three voices can be so distinct, yet mesh so beautifully into a seamless whole is the magic that's made Trio Mediaeval such an important new group in the realm of classical vocal music.

Here, with Mistereggen's percussion ranging from delicate jew's harp to more powerful rope-tensioned drums, there's an added weight to the songs, which include a tradition of singing without words, known as tulling, sulling or tralling. The forcefully rhythmical "Bruremarsj frå Gudbrandsdalen" is, perhaps, the best example of this; a song with no lyrics whatsoever.

Sequencing is, as is so often the case with ECM recordings, a vital part of the overall arc of Folk Songs. The tulling of "Springdans fra Vestfold" is the perfect segue to "Eg aktar inkje," where it's balanced with the song's brief, but pointed, lyric ("I don't think much of those boys").

An album of pointed beauty that expands even further on the successes of Words of the Angels (2001), Soir, dit-elle (2004) and Stella Maris (2005), Folk Songs may broaden Trio Mediaeval's musical sources, but remains a completely contextual part of its conceptual musical landscape.

Track Listing: Det lisle b�net; So ro, godt barn; Villeman og Magnhild; Tjovane; Nu solen går ned; I mine kåte ungdomsdagar; Gjendines bådnlåt; Bruremarsj frå Gudbrandsdalen; Rolandskvadet; Solbønn; Eg veit I himmerik ei borg; Nu vilar hela jorden; Springdans fra Vestfold; Eg aktar inkje; Den elskete Jerusalem; Till, till tove; Lova Line; Danse, ikke gråta nå; Den signede dag; Folkefrelsar, til oss kom.

Personnel: Anna Maria Friman: voice; Linn Andrea Fuglseth: voice; Tornn Østrem Ossum: voice; with Birger Mistereggen: percussion.

Title: Folk Songs | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: ECM Records


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