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Ruth Wilhelmine Meyer and Helge Lien: Memnon

Anthony Shaw By

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Helge Lien is a contemporary Norwegian pianist principally known for work on his own and with his trio, for which he has been awarded Norway's 2008 DnBNor Musicians Award. Despite extensive exposure to the more mainstream music created with his trio, however, Lien has long been associated with more experimental projects, like the HERO duo, from 2005-6, with saxophonist Rolf-Erik Nystrøm; with Tri O'Trang, where Lien plays alongside saxophone, trumpet and/or tuba; and his more recent solo piano outing, Kattenslager (Ozella, 2012 )

This album of duets with singer Ruth Wilhelmine Meyer is not easy listening either. Four tracks pass before any identifiable melodies appear, but these are sound portraits, elements of voice and piano not presenting themes but offering two expressive artists' interpretations, inspired by playwright's Henrik Ibsen's most renowned characters. Norway's own radical dramatist of the emerging modern nineteenth century, Ibsen's characters are typically troubled and tormented by life's dilemmas.

Those first four tracks are all reflective, often unworldly interplays between piano and voice—occasionally treated, but primarily sparse portraits in sound. Meyer's voice leaps and sweeps over a broad range, leaving Lien less prominent. Lien is more dominant later, on "Anitra"—a character from the original play Peer Gynt—but the pianist still resorts to more spartan musings. The same national folk myth character Peer Gynt features again in "Åse," written by Edvard Grieg, with even the well-known "The Hall of the Mountain King" making a brief entry.

Meyer's background is also demonstrative of her experimental inclinations, citing the influence of the works of performance artist Diamanda Galás, and composer/all-around artist Meredith Monk, as well as time served with Grzech Piotrowski's Polish World Orchestra. Her intimate and often awkward vocal skills make this album more an accompaniment to an inner dialogue, taking the themes typical of modern life first explored by Ibsen almost 200 years ago, ranging from agony and alienation to the occasional hint of harmony and ecstasy.

Track Listing: Hedvig (The Wild Duck); Ellida (The Lady from the Sea); Hedda (Hedda Gabler); Memnon I (Peer Gynt); Anitra (Peer Gynt); Peer and the Mountain King (Peer Gynt); Åse (Peer Gynt); Memnon II (Peer Gynt); Nora (A Doll’s House).

Personnel: Ruth Wilhelmine Meyer: vocal; Helge Lien: piano.

Title: Memnon | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Ozella Music

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