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Trio Mediaeval & Arve Henriksen: Rímur

Mark Sullivan By

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Rímur are songs in the unique Icelandic tradition of rhyming narrative verse. Transmitted orally for centuries, in the twentieth century they were recorded and transcribed by ethnographers and folk song collectors. They form part of the inspiration for this music, along with chants, folk songs, religious hymns, and fiddle tunes. There's also an emphasis on improvisation, in collaboration with trumpeter Arve Henriksen. While the Norwegian singers and trumpeter have often performed together in live settings, their only previous recording was on Sinikka Langeland's recent album The Magical Forest. I have seen Rímur identified as part of the ECM New Series of classical music recordings in some places. The usual labeling is missing from the cover, but the content could have gone either way.

The source music in this collection began as either monophony (single voice) or two-voice polyphony. As Anna Maria Friman points out in her liner notes, polyphony was rarely heard until late in the medieval period: multi-voice polyphony became one of the defining features of Renaissance music, culminating in works like Thomas Tallis' 40-part motet "Spem in alium." So, in the historical context, even two-voice compositions would have made a special impression. Much of the Trio's improvisation may have involved the creation of three-part vocal harmonies for music created for one or two voices. Henriksen's role is more obviously improvisational—taking an obbligato role—but as the collective developed many of these arrangements together, it seems clear that he is not just winging it.

Opener "St. Birgitta Hymn—Rosa rorans bonitatem" (the only piece here with a known composer, Nils Hermansson) presents the three vocalists singing the hymn, then vocalizing behind Henriksen's distinctive, reedy trumpet. It's a sound that seems perfectly matched to the human voice, as if this was always the setting it was destined for. "O Jesu ducissime" (from the Icelandic Tvísöngur C17 collection, also the source of some other selections) features Friman's Hardanger fiddle playing in an active role, far more than just a simple drone. Linn Andrea Fuglseth also plays the shruti box on some pieces, a simple reed organ with a bellows that has traditionally been used as a drone instrument in classical Indian raga performance.

"Krummi" is the only track without a traditional basis: it's credited to Friman and Henriksen. There are multiple voices, but the sound fits right in with the rest of the program. "Du är den första" (a traditional Swedish shanty) again features the fiddle, along with a trumpet solo. I believe this is the only selection with trumpet where Henriksen does not get co-arranger credit.

The album ends with the lovely pure sound of the trio singing a cappella on the chant "Alma Redemptoris Mater," followed by three folk songs: "Bíum bíum bambaló" (from Iceland); "Jag haver ingen kärare" (from Sweden); and "Gammelkjerringvalsen" (from Norway). A beautiful ending to an exceptionally lovely collection of music, even by ECM standards.

Track Listing: St Birgitta Hymn – Rosa rorans bonitatem; O Jesu dulcissime; Om ödet skulle skicka mig; Morgunstjarna; Rís upp, drottni dyrð; St Magbnus Hymn – Nobilis humilis; Lata gjálla létt og hátt; Brureslått; St Sunniva Hymn – Eterna Christi munera; Krummi; Anda þinn guð mér gef þú vist ; Sulla lulla; Du är den första; Alma Rerdemptoris; Bíum bíum bambaló; Ja haver ingen kärare; Gammelkjerrringsvalsen.

Personnel: Anna Maria Friman: voice, Hardanger Fiddle; Linn Andrea Fuglseth: voice, Shruti Box; Berit Opheim: voice; Arve Henriksen: Trumpet, electronics.

Title: Rímur | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: ECM Records

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